WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Dallas Keuchel has won a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring.
Despite his success, the left-hander knows there’s so much more to pick up. That’s why he’s constantly studying the habits and routines of teammates, hoping to pick up something that will help him improve.
”If you’re not willing to learn, then I firmly believe you’re not going forward,” he said.
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And Keuchel’s focus isn’t limited to those who are older or have more experience than he does. He feels like he can benefit from watching 24-year-old Lance McCullers the same way he can learn from 13-year veteran and 2011 Cy Young winner Justin Verlander.
”What I did four or five years ago is not going to keep me up at the top,” Keuchel said. ”So you’re always trying to sprinkle in little things because you’re ever evolving. Your body’s not the same as it was five years ago and it’s not going to be the same as it is now five years from now. If you can learn little things here and there to push yourself forward, then why not?”
Keuchel loves finding new things to try that he thinks can help him, but sometimes actually doing those things isn’t quite as enjoyable.
”Taking the knowledge and trying to produce it in competition seems easy, but it’s not that easy because once you get used to doing something one way your body adapts to it,” he said. ”So when you teach yourself to do something else, it feels that much better when you do it but it’s difficult. And it takes work.”
Manager A.J. Hinch, who took over in 2015, has seen Keuchel’s attention to detail and desire to constantly tweak his game pay off in the years he’s managed him. He spoke on Monday about how he gets to the facility every day during spring training at about 5 a.m., and often sees Keuchel come trotting in not long after he gets to his desk.
”His confidence is sky high, rightfully so,” Hinch said. ”His understanding of what he needs to do to get through all the adjustments during the game has grown. I think he’s become a little bit more outspoken in a leadership role as he’s had a few years under his belt and the quality of performance that he’s had.”
Keuchel was 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA in 23 starts last season to bounce back from a tough 2016 where he went 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA in the follow-up to his 20-win 2015 season which earned him the Cy Young. The 30-year-old started five playoff games last year, going 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA as the Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series for their first championship.
Keuchel is one of only a few players remaining who played for Houston during the really lean years. His major league debut came in 2012 when the Astros lost 107 games for the second of three straight losing seasons during their rebuilding process.
Almost anyone would be happy to be part of a pitching staff that includes Verlander, McCullers and new Astro Gerrit Cole, but Keuchel may appreciate it more than most after having played on those terrible Houston teams.
”The better the talent that you have you have a better shot at winning,” he said. ”And the last three or four years it’s been steadily increasing. We’ve got guys who are going to be in the bullpen who are quality, quality major league starters who have a chance to make a lot of money, and you don’t see that anywhere, you won’t see that anywhere else in the big leagues. That’s a very, very nice luxury to have.”
When asked for one word to describe this powerful Astros rotation, he pauses for a moment to think and rubs his signature beard.
”Special,” he said finally. ”That is the word that resonates most with me and that goes for everybody on the pitching staff, not just the starters.”
After various injuries last season limited Keuchel to his fewest starts since he made 16 as a rookie in 2012 following a June call up, Keuchel is hoping to stay healthy this season to help the team more. He’s dealt with injuries that have cost him chunks of time for the last two seasons after he pitched 200 innings in 2014 and a career-high and AL-leading 232 in 2015.
”There’s no statistic-based season I want to do or numbers or whatever accomplishments,” he said. ”But if I’m healthy and I’m making a start every fifth day the guys know that I’m durable. So that means the most to me … you want to be accountable for your team and that’s what I intend to do.”
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