Dallas Keuchel made his major league debut on June 17, 2012, holding a tough Rangers team to only one run in five innings. His second start was even more impressive. Keuchel went the distance against Cleveland, earning his first big league win. Start number three was good, as well. Keuchel held the Padres to a single run in six innings of work. But the magic soon faded and the lefty from the University of Arkansas fell on hard times.
Dallas Keuchel (Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports)
The league adjusted quickly to Keuchel. Batters became more patient and he was no longer able to sneak his 88 m.p.h. fastball past them after buttering them up with a steady diet of curveballs and changeups. It just wasn’t working any more. Keuchel lost all four of his July starts. dropping to 1-4 for the season.
August wasn’t much better for Keuchel. After a couple of no-decisions he dropped three straight. His numbers were actually improving, but the run support wasn’t there. September started with a bad outing against the Cubs before Dallas was able to right the ship and put together a couple of good starts. He ended the season with a stinker against Milwaukee, finishing with a 3-8 record, a 5.27 ERA, and a 1.55 WHIP in 16 starts.
Granted we are dealing with a small sample size but perhaps the most discouraging statistic is the 39 walks to only 38 strikeouts. On the bright side – his ground ball rate of over 52% is encouraging.
Keuchel, who turns 25 on New Year’s Day, should have plenty of competition for the number five spot in the Astros rotation this spring. If the Astros feel they need to have s a lefty in the rotation Keuchel will have an advantage over right-hander Alex White. But he will be pressed by a couple of other southpaws as well.
Like Keuchel, Rudy Owens will be entering his age 25 season. Owens pitched at AAA last year and should be ready to make the jump to the majors. Twenty-three year old Brett Oberholtzer is another possibility if the Astros want a left-handed starter. Oberholtzer spent part of the 2012 campaign at AAA and may need a little more seasoning.
The competition for rotation spots this spring should be interesting. Someone, maybe Keuchel, could step up his game andseparate from the pack. Bud Norris could still be traded. Heck, he might even be moved to the bullpen a la Brett Myers. We’re probably going to need multiple guys to step up.