If Dallas Keuchel continues to pitch the way he has in April, he may not be an Oklahoma City RedHawk for long.
The southpaw from Tulsa Kelley, who is the scheduled starter Sunday for the RedHawks against Round Rock in the finale of their eight-game homestand, is off to an impressive start. Many expect Keuchel will get a shot in the Houston Astros rotation at some point this season.
Keuchel is 3-1 on the young season with a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings pitched. Keuchel, Paul Clemens, Jordan Lyles and Henry Sosa make up a RedHawks rotation that leads the Pacific Coast League in pitching. Only Aneury Rodriguez has struggled.
RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco said Keuchel has been the RedHawk who has shown the most improvement from last season.
“He came up here last year at the end, his first time in Triple A and he was trying to establish himself as a pitcher here,” DeFrancesco said. “He got whacked around a little bit. This year he is pitching with confidence and he is a whole different guy. He really knows how to use his sinker and pitch inside when he has to. He has been giving us a chance to win every outing.”
Keuchel, 24, relies on his signature sinker that he credits his pitching coach at the University of Arkansas, Dave Jorn, with helping him master. Keuchel won both of the Razorbacks' two College World Series games in 2009 and was a seventh-round pick by the Astros that year.
“This year I have been throwing the ball well, ” Keuchel said. “I am going to get guys out with ground balls. I am throwing my sinker a lot more. I have just been living down in the zone.”
Keuchel doesn't throw hard, but his pitches have good movement. His fastball usually is clocked at 87 or 88 mph on the radar gun, but he will occasionally reach 90 or 91 mph.
He has tinkered with a few grips on his sinker and has found one that is producing a lot of ground balls.
“I actually came up with Jon Lester's two-seam grip. Tim Hudson throws it, too,” Keuchel said. “If you look at all the guys who throw sinkers in the big leagues, they throw it 80 percent of the time. They are getting 10 to 12 ground ball outs a game. I am getting a bunch of ground balls. If I can keep doing that, my infield will pick me up.”
Keuchel was named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week earlier this month but is normally a slow starter.
He pitched in the Arizona Fall League for top major league prospects during the off season. Keuchel said the seven starts he made for Oklahoma City in Triple A at the end of last season also were valuable experience.
He was 1-1 with a lofty 7.50 ERA in those seven starts because of his troubles on the road. Keuchel was 1-0 with a 1.35 in three starts at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark but was roughed up in four road starts, recording no decisions and a 15.19 ERA.
“Having a hot start is nice just because you build your confidence up rather quickly,” he said. “I didn't perform very well on the road last year. That was something I wanted to come back here and do better. I got one road start under my belt and it was a quality start so hopefully I can build on that.”
Keuchel also enjoys pitching at the park that is just down the turnpike from his home in Tulsa, where he was part of two high school state baseball championship teams at Tulsa Kelley in 2004 and 2006.
“I was fortunate to play for some good teams,” he said. “My Little League team growing up, most of us went to Bishop Kelley and we just continued winning. It was a special time for those four years.”