Keuchel looks to con­tinue suc­cess Astros take on Yan­kees to­day in Game 1 of Cham­pi­onship Se­ries

Texarkana Gazette - - SPORTS - By Kristie Rieken

HOUS­TON—Dal­las Keuchel is tired of talk­ing about his suc­cess against the New York Yan­kees.

It didn’t mat­ter on Thurs­day, though. It was an un­avoid­able sub­ject for Hous­ton’s ace as he pre­pares to start against them in Game 1 of the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries on Fri­day night. Masahiro Tanaka will pitch for New York, which is in the cham­pi­onship se­ries for the first time since 2012.

“I’ve been asked that ques­tion like 10 times al­ready,” a slightly ex­as­per­ated Keuchel said. “I don’t know, I mean, we’re one of only four teams left, so at this point a lot of guys have had suc­cess pitch­ing-wise on ei­ther the In­di­ans or the Yan­kees.”

Un­like the pitcher, man­ager A.J. Hinch didn’t shy away from singing Keuchel’s praises for his work against the Yan­kees. He joked that the lefty will prob­a­bly feel bet­ter when he takes the mound and sees play­ers in Yan­kees uni­forms. But he was quick to point out that Keuchel’s suc­cess cer­tainly hasn’t been lim­ited to games against New York.

“I know there’s a con­fi­dence level,” Hinch said. “And to be hon­est with you, when Dal­las is right, he’s con­fi­dent against any­body. I don’t think who the names are or who the jersey is, he knows he can get any­body out in the league.”

But Keuchel has pitched bet­ter than most against the Yan­kees in re­cent years, go­ing 4-2 with a 1.41 ERA and 45 strike­outs in six reg­u­lar-sea­son starts. His big­gest win to date against them came in the 2015 AL wild-card game when he and the then-up­start Astros got a 3-0 win in the Bronx. He struck

out seven and scat­tered three hits over six in­nings to get the win in Hous­ton’s first trip to the post­sea­son in a decade af­ter years of re­build­ing and los­ing.

“For that win in the wild-card game, it wasn’t just spe­cial for me and the val­i­da­tion, it was spe­cial for ev­ery­body to go into New York and play that well,” he said. “But now we look back on it and it’s prob­a­bly one of the most mag­i­cal times that I’ll have in my ca­reer and it’s some­thing I’ll never for­get, for sure.”

Keuchel gets the nod in the opener af­ter pitch­ing be­hind Justin Ver­lan­der in the ALDS. Ver­lan­der, who was ac­quired on Aug. 31, made his first ca­reer re­lief ap­pear­ance to help elim­i­nate the Red Sox in Game 4 on Mon­day.

Hinch sees Keuchel and Ver­lan­der as 1A and 1B in his ro­ta­tion, so who pitched first wasn’t that big of a deal to him.

“Dal­las is re­ally good, so I’m not the least bit hes­i­tant on start­ing him,” Hinch said. “When we made the move to pitch Ver­lan­der in Game 4 out of re­lief we had the back­drop that Dal­las was go­ing to start Game 5. So I have all the con­fi­dence in the world.”

Keuchel won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015 when he went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA be­fore strug­gling last sea­son, with a 9-12 record and 4.55 ERA. He bounced back this year de­spite neck is­sues, post­ing a 14-5 record with a 2.90 ERA to help the Astros run away with the AL West ti­tle.

He built off that in his first start this post­sea­son when he yielded three hits and a run in 5 2/3 in­nings to help Hous­ton to an 8-2 win over the Red Sox in Game 2 of the ALDS. That made him 3-0 with a 2.29 ERA in four post­sea­son ap­pear­ances with three starts.

“Dal­las Keuchel has been re­mark­able as an As­tro, he’s been re­mark­able in my three years here,” Hinch said. “We hand him the ball and the en­tire room knows we have a chance to win.”

Tanaka had an in­con­sis­tent Septem­ber that in­cluded two starts where he gave up seven earned runs and was capped by one where he struck out 15 in seven score­less in­nings be­fore he pitched the Yan­kees to a 1-0 win in Game 3 against the In­di­ans. He al­lowed just three hits in seven score­less in­nings in his sec­ond ca­reer post­sea­son game.

“His stuff was great the other day, he’s had some re­ally big starts, his last two starts have been out­stand­ing,” man­ager Joe Gi­rardi said. “And there’s a lot of times that he re­ally gets on a roll and he puts a bunch of them to­gether and we’re go­ing to need a good one from him to­mor­row.”

These pitch­ers will face two of the best hit­ters in the ma­jors in Hous­ton’s Jose Al­tuve and New York rookie Aaron Judge. The two are front-run­ners to MVP af­ter Al­tuve led the ma­jors with a .346 av­er­age and Judge was first in the AL with 52 homers.

Al­tuve has kept up his blis­ter­ing pace in the post­sea­son, where he’s hit­ting .533 with three homers and four RBIs. But Judge has had a tough time, go­ing just 1 for 20 with 16 strike­outs in the five-game win over Cleve­land.

The 25-year-old Judge isn’t daunted by his dif­fi­cult post­sea­son.

“I don’t think any­one who goes through a sea­son has a per­fect sea­son,” Judge said. “So just keep play­ing my game, keep hav­ing fun … just con­trib­ute any way I can.”

Af­ter Keuchel and Tanaka meet on Fri­day, Ver­lan­der and Luis Sev­erino will pitch in Game 2 on Satur­day in Hous­ton. The Yan­kees said CC Sa­bathia will pitch Game 3 in New York and Sonny Gray will go in Game 4. Hous­ton’s hasn’t an­nounced its ro­ta­tion past Satur­day.

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