On Oct. 16, 2018, Dallas Keuchel took the ball for the Astros against the Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS. Who would've thought at the time that he wouldn't see MLB action again until June 21 -- at least not unless he got hurt in spring training. Nope, Keuchel was healthy, he just didn't sign a free-agent deal until after the draft (it became official June 7) with a one-year, $13 million deal from the Braves. On Friday night he made his Braves debut against the Nationals in Washington (GameTracker).
Now, the Nationals entered the game two games under .500, but they have some players who can hit and came in hot. They entered Friday having won 17 of their past 24. The club as a whole was hitting .262/.329/.496 compared to a league average of .254/.321/.440 in the month of June.
Let's take a look at how Keuchel fared.
Keuchel's top two velocity seasons were 2014-15 and those were two of his three stellar seasons when it came to run prevention. Last season, his sinker (which he generally throws around 40-55 percent of the time) averaged 89.69 mph, which is a bit down but not by a lot (90.49 in 2014 and 90.39 in '15).
Friday, his two-seamer (which is the sinker) topped out at 89.1 and was generally in the 87-88 range. Basically, his velocity is down enough that it is noticeable at this point. He threw 44 sinkers out of 99 pitches.
Keuchel came in to the season having walked 2.6 hitters for every nine innings. It's not bad, but it's not like he's prime Curt Schilling. He'll issue a few walks on occasion. He didn't Friday, though. Through his five innings, he issued zero free passes. That's good! Of course ...
Generally, when Keuchel is on, he's commanding at the bottom of the strike zone and getting either swings and misses or groundouts with that sinker. He did get 10 ground-ball outs compared to five flyouts, but he also hit two batters while also noticeably missing several other spots. The home run he allowed to Yan Gomes was a cookie that shouldn't have been there (if you want specifics, it was a sinker in the up-and-in portion of the strike zone at 88 mph).
The final line: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 99 pitches (64 strikes)
It was a bit of a mixed bag, which was to be expected. The 5.40 ERA and 1.60 WHIP definitely look ugly right now. His first inning was fine. He allowed two on with no out in the second but worked out of it, getting a strikeout for the first out. That was a good sign. He got Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick groundouts after a Juan Soto double in the third to make it three scoreless innings. Then the proverbial wheels came off, though it could have been far worse. A throwing error started things in the fourth and he was able to get two straight outs to close down the fifth while leaving the bases loaded.
There was bound to be rust and there was, but he made some big pitches to avoid a disaster outing on the road against a team that is on fire right now. It certainly wasn't good, but I don't think there's any reason to freak out either. Let's call this a work in progress.