AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Left-han­der Keuchel look­ing to carry his lights-out form into the reg­u­lar sea­son

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN dvan­schouwen@sun­times.com | @CST_­sox­van

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.’’

AP

The Sox’ Dal­las Keuchel yielded one hit and faced the min­i­mum 15 bat­ters in five in­nings Mon­day against the Cubs.

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