AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Left-hander Keuchel looking to carry his lights-out form into the regular season
White Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel is amped and ready. When he feels butterflies warming up for an exhibition game in an empty ballpark, you know he’s into it.
A 60-game season begins Friday, and Keuchel, 32, is pitching near-flawless baseball leading into it.
Perhaps it’s a youthful team, brimming with confidence, that is rubbing off on him. Maybe it’s the three-year, $55 million contract he wants to live up to. Maybe it’s the fact that almost nothing has been hit hard against him since March.
The juices were flowing so freely through Keuchel’s veins before the game Monday against the Cubs that he gave catcher James McCann the timeout sign in the bullpen to take a break and regroup. He got back up, finished the warmup, then allowed one hit in five innings against the Cubs.
‘‘It was really nice to get that extra adrenaline rush,’’ Keuchel said. ‘‘I wasn’t used to all the adrenaline and blood pump as I had the last 10 minutes of warming up . . . . It was nice to get that feeling, that nervous little bubbly feeling in the stomach, and your heart rate up.’’ Opening Day can’t be far away. Right-hander Lucas Giolito will get the start in the opener Friday against the slugging Twins, and Keuchel couldn’t be going into his start the next day having pitched any better.
How good has he been? In his first intrasquad start, Keuchel retired all seven batters he faced, striking out Adam Engel, Andrew Vaughn and Zack Collins. Five days later, he retired all 11 batters he faced. Against the Cubs, Keuchel faced the minimum 15 batters in five innings, allowing only a single to Kyle Schwarber. He got Steven Souza to hit into a double play after that — one of nine groundball outs.
That’s three outings, albeit short ones — Keuchel threw 34 pitches in his last intrasquad start and 55 against the Cubs — of near-perfect pitching.
As the Sox roll into the season opener liking how they’ve bashed the ball around in camp and against the Cubs, Keuchel is on a bit of a high.
‘‘It feels like we’re ready to go, and . . . I feel ready to go,’’ Keuchel said. ‘‘I was able to do a lot of things I wanted to do to be successful, so I’m ready to turn the lights on for real. And that’s the biggest thing for me: When I wake up in the morning, I know we have a chance to win every night, and that hasn’t been there [for the rebuilding Sox] the last four or five years. Once a team knows that is possible, that’s when really good things can happen.’’
Good things happened to Keuchel when he won a Cy Young Award in 2015 and a World Series in 2017 with the Astros, but he’s more than open to more really good things. A ground-ball pitcher, he’ll need third baseman Yoan Moncada to make the kind of plays he made against the Cubs and shortstop Tim Anderson, who led the majors with 26 errors last season, to be better.
He expects to get run support. ‘‘Our lineup is as good as anybody’s in baseball,’’ he said. ‘‘We just have a lot of young guys who need to prove some things or prove some things again in order to get some street cred.’’
Keuchel’s cred is good with his manager.
‘‘He’s pretty good,’’ Sox skipper Rick Renteria said Tuesday. ‘‘He’s not afraid, hits his spots. He’ll keep us in ballgames. He’s been around the block. He knows what he’s doing. It was an impressive outing for him [against the Cubs], and we are very, very happy how he’s throwing the ball.’’
The Sox’ Dallas Keuchel yielded one hit and faced the minimum 15 batters in five innings Monday against the Cubs.