Ned Yost was smart enough to name Dallas Keuchel the AL’s All-Star Game starter, partially because he’s witnessed first-hand how dominant the Houston Astros left-hander can be.
The Kansas City Royals manager knows the challenge that awaits his club Sunday when Keuchel tries to become the AL’s first 13-game winner in this decisive series finale.
Though Kansas City (58-38) snapped a seven-game skid to Houston with Saturday’s 2-1, 10-inning victory, it has been held to two or fewer runs six times in the last eight meetings. The task only gets tougher against Keuchel (12-4, 2.12 ERA), the AL ERA leader who allowed two hits and struck out a career-high 13 in seven innings of a 10-0 rout of Texas last Sunday.
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"It was vintage Dallas Keuchel with a few more strikeouts," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "That’s our guy. There’s no way around it. He’s been doing it like this the whole year.
"He’s a threat every time he goes out to put up a game like this."
Keuchel certainly was June 30 while striking out seven over eight innings of a 4-0 victory over the Royals, improving to 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in three starts against them.
"(Keuchel) utilized both sides of the plate really effectively," Yost said. "He’d get us looking away and then he’d start pounding us in. We couldn’t gauge him."
The good news for Yost’s club is that Keuchel has been vulnerable away from home, posting a 4.65 ERA in his past six road starts and losing four of the last five.
Fellow Astros starters Scott Kazmir and Scott Feldman dominated the first two games of this set, holding the Royals to one run over 14 2-3 innings. Kansas City has managed 11 hits in the series, but its last from Alcides Escobar blooped in to score Paulo Orlando with the winner Saturday.
"These type of games are character builders," Hinch said. "There are no moral victories around here, but I was proud of our guys."
Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer is batting .484 in the last eight games and is 4 for 6 against Keuchel, who will be opposed by Yordano Ventura (4-7, 5.19).
The right-hander was sent down to Triple-A Omaha on Tuesday, then recalled a day later after Kansas City announced Jason Vargas will need Tommy John surgery. Ventura was demoted in order to fine-tune some things but was the obvious choice to return.
"There were two reasons we sent him down – one, we felt he could have benefited from low pressure starts, but mainly it’s because we needed protection," Yost told MLB’s official website. "We needed to clear a spot and we needed a long man, and that was (Joe) Blanton. It was more out of necessity to have a long guy."
Ventura allowed a season-high six runs and 10 hits in four-plus innings of Monday’s 10-7 loss to Pittsburgh. He fell to 1-4 with a 6.21 ERA in his past six starts.
"This kid has had some success at the major league level," Yost said. "Hopefully he’ll get better and better as the second half goes on."
Ventura is 1-1 with a 5.59 ERA in two starts against Houston (55-44) – both came last season.
He’ll get his first look at rookie shortstop Carlos Correa, who delivered a sacrifice fly and made a stellar play ranging into the hole to throw out Alex Rios with men on first and third to end the ninth.
Correa batted .379 during a nine-game hitting streak that ended Saturday but has eight RBIs in his last eight contests.