By Chad Jennings
Houston Astros’ players work out in a light rain at Yankee Stadium, Monday, April 4, 2016 in New York. The opener between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium has been postponed because of a forecast of bad weather and rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Three years ago, Dallas Keuchel was a pretty bad pitcher on a really bad team. If he weren’t pitching for the 111-loss Astros, Keuchel might not have stuck in a big league rotation for 22 starts at a 5.60 ERA.
But his status has changed completely the past two seasons.
When he steps on the mound at Yankee Stadium for Tuesday’s postponed season opener, Keuchel will be as perhaps the most imposing ace this side of Clayton Kershaw, at least for the Yankees.
Consider Keuchel’s recent resume:
- Six scoreless innings to eliminate the Yankees in last year’s Wild Card Game.
- Seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts at Yankee Stadium last August.
- Complete game, 12-strikeout shutout against the Yankees in Houston last June.
- Eight innings in a complete game loss in the Bronx in 2014.
“It’s a young man that has really developed into an ace, is what he’s done,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s very good at his trade. When you face a guy like Dallas Keuchel, you hope they’re off their game that day and he makes some mistakes and we take advantage of them.”
The Yankees have had no such luck with that strategy in the past year. Monday’s opener was rained out, which only postponed the next matchup against the reigning Cy Young winner.
Opening Day will now take place Tuesday at 1:05 p.m., a rematch of last year’s Wild Card showdown between Keuchel and Masahiro Tanaka.
After pitching to a 5.20 ERA in his first two big league seasons, Keuchel has now pitched to a 2.69 ERA in the past two years, leading the Astros revival to become one of the best young teams in baseball.
Keuchel’s fastball generally sits close to 90-mph, but he throws a lot of strikes, generates a boatload of groundballs, and had the fifth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League last season.
Lefties hit .177 against Keuchel last season, and so the Yankees will not play Brett Gardner in tomorrow’s opener.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Gardner said. “He had a great year last year. But he’s not a guy you necessarily get, I don’t want to say scared to face, but he’s not a guy that’s real overpowering, that’s real intimidating. (He)’s not a very uncomfortable at-bat. He just finds ways to beat you and get you out.”
Chris Sale and David Price are perhaps more physically imposing figures, but the Yankees have won against each of those lefties at least once in each of the past two years. They’ve even pummeled Price a few times.
Keuchel, though, seems to have the Yankees’ number.
“He’s Greg Maddux from the left side, with a little better slider,” Alex Rodriguez said after last year’s Wild Card shutout.
So that’s what the Yankees are up against on Tuesday. Rain might have delayed the showdown, but it didn’t change the matchup. The Yankees are well aware what they’re up against.
“I don’t think there’s an intimidation factor,” Girardi said, before very quickly adding: “I think we recognize he’s very good at what he does.”