Astros manager A.J. Hinch just couldn’t wait till 2016 to announce the team’s starting pitcher for Opening Day.
During the press conference to welcome the newest Astro, Ken Giles, to the team, the Astros skipper decided to go ahead and let the cat out of the bag: 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel being tabbed as the starter against the Yankees in New York on April 4th. The game will also serve as a rematch of the 2015 AL Wild Card game that took place in New York this past postseason.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone considering Keuchel is coming off the best season of any Astros starting pitcher in recent memory. Not only did he win the Cy Young, but the bearded left-hander also had the first 20-win for the franchise since Roy Oswalt did so in 2005.
Keuchel will also look to continue his dominance of the Bronx Bombers when he finished with a 3-0 record over the course of 22 scoreless innings in 2015. One of those starts was the Wild Card game when he allowed only three hits and walked one while striking out seven.
This strikeout of Alex Rodriguez in particular during the first inning of the AL Wild Card game helped set the tone early for the Astros, star pitcher.
Thanks to his effort against the Yankees that October night, Keuchel pushed the Astros to the AL Division Series against the Kansas City Royals before the team fell in five games to the eventual World Series champions. He clearly deserves another shot on the big stage in April at Yankee Stadium.
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However, the timing of this announcement from Hinch is somewhat unexpected when considering that Spring Training is still about two months away. But that Keuchel was named as the Opening Day starter was predictable and the announcement eliminates any possible distractions come February. And barring an unforeseen issue, Keuchel should continue his reign as the ace of the Astros rotation, especially if he comes close to repeating his 2015 numbers (2.91 FIP, 6.1 WAR) next season.
The 2015 AL Cy Young winner gives the Astros a chance to start the 2016 season on a high note as his performance should set the tone early for the young ball club. A victory would also serve as a great reminder that baseball is back in Houston.
**Statistics are provided by Fangraphs.com and Baseball Reference**