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Shoulder an issue for Keuchel throughout '16

Astros lefty regrets not letting club know sooner; feels 'brand new' this year
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Being a competitor, Dallas Keuchel couldn't allow himself to not take the ball every fifth day. He knew his shoulder wasn't feeling well at the start of last spring and -- coming off a season in which he won the American League Cy Young Award -- he also knew his team was counting on him.

Keuchel, the Astros' ace lefty, admitted he tried to pitch through shoulder discomfort all of last season, a season in which he underperformed. He went 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA in 26 starts before finally being shut down in late August with left shoulder inflammation. Looking back, a contrite Keuchel said Wednesday he wished he would have said something about the pain earlier in the season.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Being a competitor, Dallas Keuchel couldn't allow himself to not take the ball every fifth day. He knew his shoulder wasn't feeling well at the start of last spring and -- coming off a season in which he won the American League Cy Young Award -- he also knew his team was counting on him.

Keuchel, the Astros' ace lefty, admitted he tried to pitch through shoulder discomfort all of last season, a season in which he underperformed. He went 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA in 26 starts before finally being shut down in late August with left shoulder inflammation. Looking back, a contrite Keuchel said Wednesday he wished he would have said something about the pain earlier in the season.

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"It was basically I tried to pitch through an injury I should have said something with, and I learned my lesson," he said. "If you say something from the beginning, you'll be better off. That's something that I'll do."

Keuchel, 29, said the inflammation was in his rotator cuff, but a full offseason of rest has him in a good frame of mind and good health entering spring camp. He's thrown five times in the bullpen, only fastballs, and will get back on the mound again Thursday.

"I've taken care of my body a lot more," he said. "It seems like my body is not responding as well as it used to when I was 21, 22, 23. Father Time has definitely come, but just taking better care of my body was the first and foremost part. I've seen firsthand, obviously, what 162 games does to a body, especially the position players. I'm not really sure how they do it.

"As a pitcher, it's completely different. Your arm is your key, but at the same time everything else goes together, and whether it be extra rest or getting better sleep at night or taking care of my body recovery-wise in the offseason, that was a big key for me."

Keuchel said his discomfort began in the spring a year ago. He knew something wasn't right, but he kept telling himself to push through.

"I actually hurt the team more than helped them out," he said. "I learned that it's OK to tell people you're not feeling right. That's one of the big keys I learned at the age of 28. Hopefully at 29 I'll be a little more knowledgeable."

Keuchel's velocity was down across the board last year. His two-seam fastball averaged 88.6 mph in 2016, according to FanGraphs, which was down from 89.5 during his '15 Cy Young campaign. His slider averaged 78 mph, down from 79.3.

"We were aware things weren't perfect for him," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

Keuchel knows how important it will be for him to bounce back this year. The Astros need a healthy and effective Keuchel to make a deep run into the postseason, and the lefty is eager for the challenge.

"I feel like a brand new guy," he said. "I don't ever want to miss any time, and that really killed me just to watch the last month unfold of our season. It was like I was just a cheerleader, which is cool and everything for four days in between [starts], but I want to take that ball every fifth day and go with it. That was the most disappointing part, just watching and not being able to contribute in any way possible."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Houston Astros, Dallas Keuchel