Houston Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel has not looked the same since returning from a neck injury, and its officially time to be concerned that he’s not quite right.
Keuchel made his second start since returning from the disabled list last night and took the loss as Houston went down to the Tampa Bay Rays 3-0. Since returning from injury, he is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA, not exactly inspiring numbers for someone who was 9-0 with a sub-2 ERA prior to his injury.
The numbers now
Keuchel’s numbers on the season are still good in spite of his two recent subpar starts. The former Cy Young Award winner is still 9-1 with a 2.15 ERA and 1.00 WHIP on the year, and his ground ball rate is an excellent 65.8%.
But let’s take a deeper look and see just why there is cause for concern. In his first start back from injury on July 28, Keuchel lasted just three innings against the Detroit Tigers. He gave up three earned runs on six hits, with three walks and three strikeouts. It took him 79 pitches to post that line, and only 45 of those pitches were thrown for strikes.
Keuchel needed 87 pitches to get through five innings yesterday, and only 49 of those were for strikes. He was responsible for all three of Tampa Bay’s runs.
The long and short of it is that something is not right in Houston, and a red flag needs to be raised if it hasn’t been already.
History of cover-up
It’s also worth noting that Keuchel has a history of pitching through injuries in spite of how much it may hurt his team. Keep in mind that after going 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA en route to the AL Cy Young in 2015, Keuchel took a significant step back and was just 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA the following year. As seen on Fangraphs, his ground ball rate dropped five points and he was eventually shut down with a shoulder issue in late August.
Keuchel later said his shoulder had been bothering him all season but, being a competitor, he pitched through the pain. It’s admirable that he’d be willing to play through an injury, but the regular rules of that department don’t apply when one is a top pitcher.
Keuchel’s most recent stay on the disabled list was his second of the season, as he was placed on the 10-day DL in May after being diagnosed with a pinched nerve in his neck.
Keuchel is probably still pitching through neck pain. We saw last year just how different a pitcher he is when not at 100 percent, and his performance in his last two starts isn’t just bad luck. The man is not himself, and he needs to accept that and be upfront with management about it.
What’s going on with Keuchel is just another issue the Astros are dealing with and it’d be terrible if their stellar season was affected by it. Houston is 69-38 on the season and leads the AL West by 15 games, but is also in the midst of a cold streak. The Astros are 4-6 in their last 10 games and also dealing with a multitude of injuries to key players.
Hard-hitting shortstop Carlos Correa underwent surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament two weeks ago and, as MLB.com’s Christian Boutwell, tweeted, could still be at least a month away from returning.
Outfielder George Springer, who leads the team with 27 home runs, has been out with a quad injury for a little over a week and is without a clear timetable for a return.
The pitching department is not faring much better. Key reliever Will Harris was recently placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, and righty starter Lance McCullers Jr. is out with a back issue for the second time this season. There is no timetable for his return.
And though the Astros have not come out publicly with any further medical concerns about Keuchel, it wouldn't be a surprise if they did in the near future. Keuchel has not looked like himself since coming off of the disabled list and his last two starts show it.
The man already has a history of hiding injuries and given how well Houston has played this year, for all of those efforts to be wasted just because he wants to play through the pain would be a crying shame.
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