White Sox’ Dallas Keuchel still smarting from wild-card loss to Athletics

Keuchel, who’s taking a measured approach to the season, is set for his first Cactus League start Thursday.

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White Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel. (John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times)

It still leaves a sour taste.

And for the White Sox and Dallas Keuchel, that’s a good thing.

It never hurts to have something burning, even under a Cy Young Award and World Series winner, like failure.

Keuchel has “something to prove” in 2021 after not carrying his weight in the wild-card series against the Athletics year.

“The driving factor for me right now is the fact that my last couple of playoff starts have not been very good,” Keuchel said Sunday, “and I want to be one of the guys this team counts on to get it done. And not getting it done last year in Game 2 has really left a sour taste in my mouth, and that’s something that I’m out to prove this year.”

Keuchel says he’s not a goal-oriented type of player — he just wants to stay healthy.

“But if I had something to look forward to, it would be getting back on the wagon and asserting myself in the playoffs, which I had done the first five, six starts of my career.”

Keuchel posted a 1.93 ERA over his first 11 postseason appearances, but he allowed three runs in 3„ innings for the Braves against the Cardinals in the 2019 division series and then allowed five runs (three earned) in 3„ against the Athletics in Game 2 of the wild-card series last season.

Keuchel had a solid 1.99 ERA in 11 starts and finished fifth in American League Cy Young voting in 2020, “achievements” he doesn’t take much stock in.

“I know guys won awards and everyone did the same thing, but in baseball you have to play 162,” Keuchel said.

The best thing about 2020, Keuchel said, was building a base to work from after missing part of the 2019 season as an unsigned free agent and then the abbreviated season a year ago. He has made 30 starts over the last two years.

“What is getting me so excited is that I’ve found my rhythm again, and found that connection point to where every pitch is there again including my breaking ball,” he said, “which I haven’t had in the last two or three years.”

Keuchel, 33, has slow-rolled it this spring, working only on the side and in live batting practice. His first start is scheduled for Thursday against the Royals, which lines him up for three Cactus League outings and starting the Sox’ second game of the season against the Angels on April 2.

Three will be enough.

“It works for him being healthy and he’ll be sharp enough because he’s smart,” manager Tony La Russa said.

“I’m not trying to push it in spring training,” Keuchel said. “I’m trying to make sure that I’m there in September and October. I feel great, though. I’ve got to remember that I’m not trying to go nine innings in spring training.”

So Keuchel is in a good place. He recently became engaged to MLB Network host Kelly Nash, is feeling like himself on the mound “for the first time in a long while” and knows he’ll be pitching for a team seemingly on the cusp of good things.

“It’s nice to come to the park day in and out knowing we have a better shot to win,” he said. And that’s one of the biggest things. When the Astros started turning around, the thing that made us hungry was, ‘Hey, we have a better shot at winning this series than lose it.’ And that’s all you really want now.”

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