JUPITER, Fla. -- Less than 2,000 people watched Dallas Keuchel take the ball for his final Grapefruit League start under a warm Tuesday afternoon sky at Roger Dean Stadium. The next time he toes the rubber, the setting will be bigger and the stakes will be much higher.
In his final tuneup before starting for the Astros on Opening Day this Monday, Keuchel weaved his way through 4 2/3 innings in Tuesday's 7-3 win over the Marlins.
Keuchel allowed three runs on six hits and two walks, throwing 90 pitches before manager A.J. Hinch decided he had reached his limit.
"There were a few stressful innings," said Keuchel, who struck out four. "I wasn't really planning on that. It's good to see the body kind of take a little stress and pull through it with 90 pitches and up and down five times. I'm ready to go. It's an exciting time. We like Florida, but at the same time, we're ready to get back and get some of those Houston bright lights."
Keuchel admitted he has smiled more this spring because he's more at ease and not fighting his mechanics like he was last season, when he battled shoulder discomfort before finally shutting it down in late August. The southpaw wound up going 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA in 26 starts.
This spring, a healthy Keuchel gave up 15 hits and five runs, issued three walks and struck out 10 batters in 16 2/3 innings. The only homer he surrendered came when Giancarlo Stanton clubbed a second-inning slider.
"I'm happy with where he's at because he's completely talking about competing and making pitches and pitch selection, the shape of his cutter and all things that are baseball-oriented and not rehab-oriented," Hinch said. "I'm happy how he's attacking the game. He wants to be perfect. He's never satisfied. He made a couple of bad pitches today, but he's ready to go."
Keuchel's fastball, which was down a tick last year during the regular season, sat at 86-88 mph on Tuesday. He was happy with how he commanded his two-seam fastball against lefties, who hit .237 against him last year (.177 during his American League Cy Young Award season in 2015).
"Lefties are going to be the key this year," Keuchel said. "I let them hit quite a few points higher than they usually do against me, and that was kind of the main thing for the struggle. Get back to getting lefties out consistently, and we'll have a turnaround season.
"I still made a few pitches I want to get back and still trying to tighten up the back-foot slider to the righties. That was the pitch to Stanton, but other than that, I felt really good. A few more foul balls I'd like to have back, maybe get a couple of groundouts there, but I'll take it."