HOUSTON -- When Dallas Keuchel won the American League's Cy Young Award in 2015 and helped lead the Astros to the postseason, the momentum started with a spectacular April. Back then, Houston's lefty ace went 3-0 in the season's first month with a 0.73 ERA in five starts, and his team paced the AL West at 15-7.
Two years later, there's a familiar feeling.
Keuchel was dominant yet again in Sunday's 7-2 win over the A's, securing the series for the Astros in front of 34,880 fans at Minute Maid Park. After giving up two runs in a complete-game victory at Cleveland last Tuesday, Keuchel was similarly brilliant against Oakland with 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball, striking out a season-high nine batters and surrendering just three hits.
"His fastball, his changeup, he did everything right," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I was proud of how he pitched and how he competed. He was pretty locked in."
Keuchel exited after just 99 pitches with two outs in the eighth and no runs allowed because Hinch was wary of overextending him after a pitch count of 117 in Cleveland.
"It was probably the best command I've had in a while," Keuchel said. "Just trying to continue to attack the zone and get some early contact."
In six April starts, Keuchel is a Major League-leading 5-0 with a 1.21 ERA. And similar to 2015, his team stands atop the AL West heading into May with a 16-9 record. But unlike '15, when Houston went just 71-69 after a 15-7 April, Keuchel is confident that the team's performance has staying power.
"I don't really compare [them] a lot," Keuchel said. "The team we have now is head and shoulders above what we had in 2015. I think we played out of our minds in '15, and it kind of showed in '16. We actually weren't that good, to be honest. We kind of played the hide-and-seek method, and nobody could find us. This year, we're pretty good, and we know that going in. And that's why we're so confident each and every night we play. That just makes it even more fun."
Strong April results weren't there in 2016, when Keuchel struggled through inflammation in his rotator cuff all season and got off to a 2-3 start with a 4.41 ERA. But a full offseason of rest placed the 29-year-old in a good frame of mind and health entering '17, and the results have responded in kind.
"It's satisfying," Keuchel said. "We couldn't have asked for a better start to the season."
Some might see it as unfortunate that Keuchel's turn in the rotation narrowly misses the four-game series between the Astros and division rival Rangers, which starts Monday. But the stabilizing presence of Houston's ace gives them momentum heading into the series, as well as confidence coming out once Keuchel takes the mound Friday to open up a series in Anaheim.
"It's always nice when Dallas' turn rolls around," Hinch said. "I don't think anybody ever argues when their lead guy gets out there on the mound."