Dallas Keuchel is glad he came.
The 33-year-old former Cy Young and World Series winner in the second year of his three-year deal with the White Sox is enjoying pitching for a winner and being part of a staff he says is the best he has been a part of.
“As a whole from five starters and seven or eight relievers that we have, it’s the best that I’ve ever seen,” said Keuchel, whose left arm carried the Sox to a 3-0 victory Tuesday against the Rays that evened the three-game series.
The Astros’ 2018 rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton made up “the best five starters I’ve ever seen on a baseball field together,” Keuchel said. “Here it’s just the complete package.”
Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Keuchel have done the bulk of the work that has the Sox ranked second in the majors in ERA at 2.96. Keuchel’s seven scoreless innings against the Rays (43-25) lowered his ERA to 3.78, very close to the 3.74 mark he posted in 2018. Although the Sox’ bullpen hasn’t peaked, Keuchel sees a higher ceiling with the talent of Liam Hendriks, Michael Kopech (currently on the injured list), Garrett Crochet and Aaron Bummer.
“It’s fun; this is what I signed up for,” said Keuchel, who improved to 6-1.
“When you have two guys [Rodon and Lynn] vying for the Cy Young this early, you know you are on a pretty good track, and getting Hendriks was a big-time plus.
“With fans in the stands, it’s a different aspect, as well. It gets the blood pumping more. I’m definitely hoping we make a deep October run this year because this place is rowdy.”
Another lively crowd of 19,259 at Guaranteed Rate Field watching the teams with the best records in baseball saw the Sox (42-25) score two in the fourth inning against left-hander Shane McClanahan and one in the fifth on Adam Engel’s third homer in the seven games he has played this season.
Andrew Vaughn scored on Danny Mendick’s two-out single, but only thanks to a throw by left fielder Randy Arozarena that bounced through catcher Francisco Mejia, also allowing Leury Garcia to score.
Keuchel, who has allowed three earned runs in his last three starts, allowed four hits and walked one. He struck out five and threw 102 pitches, 64 for strikes.
“That was nice tonight,” Keuchel said. “I’m still not making quality pitches to lefties consistently. I need to home in on that.
“But we’re moving in the right direction. I’d like to finish the first half with a really consistent run. I targeted June as when I’d like to turn on the gas.”
While the other starters feature mid- to upper-90 mph velocity, Keuchel threw sinkers in the 87-89 mph range, cutters around 85 mph and changeups at 80.
This makes him a dying breed of pitcher succeeding with changing speeds, moving the ball around and getting ground-ball outs. MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances announced Tuesday might encourage pitchers to get back to sinking the ball, Keuchel said.
“Everything goes in spurts, and right now it’s the four-seam [fastball],” Keuchel said.
“You’ll see about a quarter, maybe 35 or 40% go back to sinking the ball and then throwing some sliders.”
MLB intensified its enforcement of rules that prohibit applying foreign substances to baseballs, measures that won’t affect him, Keuchel said.
“It was kind of a gentleman’s rule for so long, but you make it so obvious now, it’s kind of hard not to crack down,” Keuchel said. “This is coming from a guy who doesn’t use anything. I literally will rub up the ball with my sweat. So at places I don’t sweat, I have trouble commanding the baseball. You can’t be out there toying with your glove or tossing the ball back and forth like some of these guys.”
Bummer pitched a scoreless eighth; Hendriks stranded two runners and collected his 18th save. On this night, though, Keuchel was the headliner.
“He was Picasso, just painted beautifully,” manager Tony La Russa said.