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Keuchel should be a no-doubt pick as All-Star

Astros ace has overcome bumps in the road to emerge among top AL starters @RichardJustice

Astros manager Bo Porter used his postgame news conference on Wednesday to lobby for Dallas Keuchel, his ace left-hander, to be part of the American League All-Star team.

Come on, Bo, give us something harder. Challenge us, Bo. How about asking for hot summers and big mosquitoes in Houston? Hey, that's a good one, Bo. Good barbecue in Austin? There you go, Bo.

Or how about asking Keuchel to show us how he can still call the Hogs five years after he pitched his last game for the University of Arkansas? Here's betting he can still do it.

That's because Dallas Keuchel is about as close to a slam dunk as the AL All-Stars will have this summer. There's just no way Red Sox manager John Farrell can draw up his roster without inviting Keuchel.

And that would be a kick in the pants on so many levels.

One of the best things about baseball's Midsummer Classic is the stories like this: Guys who've had to fight and claw for everything they've gotten. Guys who've dealt with some failure and who simply kept working and kept figuring things out. Guys who believed in themselves when plenty of others had to be a bit shaky.

That's Dallas Keuchel.

First, Keuchel may be the AL's best starting pitcher in 2014. At the very least, he's on the short list.

Keuchel is No. 1 in Wins Above Replacement (3.9) among AL pitchers, according to His WHIP is a dazzling 0.99, third best in the AL, behind only Masahiro Tanaka (0.94) and Scott Kazmir (0.98).

Keuchel's name is dotted across the leaderboard in other places as well: fifth in ERA (2.38), fifth in opponent's batting average (.220) and eighth in innings (90 2/3).

He has been a huge part of the renaissance of the Astros. George Springer and Jon Singleton are the faces of the franchise, because they represent the beginning of a new era for the club. But Houston is being led by its starting pitching.

The Astros have been really good lately, winning 13 of 18, But they've been competitive for awhile. Since April 21 -- and this is no small sample size -- they have gone 25-23. In that time, their rotation has posted a 20-17 record with a 3.66 ERA. Only the A's and Angels have gotten better starting pitching in this stretch.

So, it's not just Keuchel. It's Collin McHugh and Jarred Cosart and Scott Feldman and others. Slowly, methodically, Houston is getting it right.

Back to Keuchel. He began this season having started 38 big league games. Keuchel had a 9-18 record, a 5.20 ERA and a 1.540 WHIP.

Keuchel, 26, probably is going to look back and see those 38 starts, especially the 22 he got last season, as a huge step in his development. Because the Astros didn't have better alternatives, they kept running him out there. And like a lot of other guys, Keuchel gradually began to figure things out.

Keuchel is exactly the kind of guy general manager Jeff Luhnow hoped to find as he rebuilt the franchise. In constantly shuffling the roster, Luhnow got a good look at all the talent in the organization -- and plenty from outside the organization.

As Porter would say, "We give guys a shot. If it doesn't work out, we move on to the next guy."

The Astros were not burdened by contracts or expectations. They simply ran what amounted to a tryout camp.

With this freedom, Keuchel figured himself out. He dropped a bad curveball and added what has become a very good slider.

Keuchel polished his changeup and got better command of his fastball. As he had more success -- when the slider began to get swings and misses -- his changeup became better, too.

Suddenly, Keuchel was taking a very impressive arsenal to the mound. In keeping the ball down, he's getting a ton of ground balls. Keuchel is missing bats and throwing strikes. In short, he's the real deal.

When Keuchel limited Arizona to one run in eight innings on Wednesday, the D-backs paid him the ultimate compliment. They said he was no longer a surprise. They said they knew what to expect, but that Keuchel simply had executed his game plan, never giving them a chance.

Keuchel is a reminder for all of us that young players require patience, that they don't all advance at the same speed and that, in the end, they don't all figure it out. Keuchel has figured it out dramatically and emphatically.

Only Felix Hernandez and Tanaka have more quality starts in the AL this season. Houston is 9-4 in Keuchel's 13 starts. His is a victory for tenacity and confidence. Keuchel's success is also a victory for an entire organization, for all the people who worked with him and encouraged him since he was the 221st player drafted in 2009.

Keuchel is the kind of guy that could use the All-Star Game's stage to tell his story, to talk of perseverance and hard work. Isn't that what the All-Star Game is all about? He's also deserving of the honor. Slam-dunk deserving.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Houston Astros, Dallas Keuchel