KANSAS CITY -- An undisclosed illness to Astros ace Dallas Keuchel came to a head while he was warming up in the bullpen just minutes before Wednesday night's 7-5 loss to the Royals -- forcing manager A.J. Hinch to scratch the lefty and piece together a game with an already tired bullpen.
Rookie reliever Dayan Diaz, who was called up earlier on Wednesday as a fresh arm for the bullpen, was thrust into his first Major League start. But the efforts of Diaz -- three runs in 2 2/3 innings -- and four relievers weren't enough.
"Guys made their pitches," said catcher Brian McCann, who had four hits, including a homer. "I felt like I didn't do a good job tonight calling a game. I felt like I could have gone a couple of different directions, and I should have. I'm going to be thinking about some pitches I called tonight going back to the hotel."
Keuchel (9-0, 1.67 ERA) had made two starts since coming off the seven-day disabled list on May 27 with a pinched nerve in his neck, including a win against the Rangers on Friday. Keuchel was looking to become the fifth pitcher since 1987 to start a season 10-0, joining Stephen Strasburg (2016), Max Scherzer (2013), Clay Buchholz (2013) and Roger Clemens (1997).
Keuchel's matchup with Royals starter Jason Vargas (7-3, 2.08 ERA) was going to be the first battle between MLB's top two ERA leaders this late in the season since the Astros' Clemens and the Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals in 2005. It never materialized.
Hinch, while not disclosing the nature of the illness, said Keuchel hadn't been feeling well and had lost weight in recent days. Keuchel was sent back to the team hotel and wasn't available to talk to reporters.
"He's been sick for the last couple of days, so he didn't feel great coming in, and then as he started his throwing program in the bullpen, a couple of things happened: one, he didn't feel great; two, he didn't look great, according to our coaches, and so we scratched him," Hinch said. "We found out as guys were finishing up their warmups. It was a quick decision to scratch him."
Hinch said it was easy to default to Diaz because he was rested and had pitched three innings (50 pitches) at Fresno.
"Most of the young relievers are going to be out in the 'pen during the starter's warmups anyway," he said. "We quickly rallied everybody to make sure -- [Tony Sipp] and [Luke Gregerson] and [Will Harris], and those guys that were potentially available were going to be down there a little early because I knew the early parts of the game we were going to mix and match the best we could to get outs."
And just like they did on Wednesday, the Astros will likely have to shuttle a fresh arm from Triple-A for Thursday's series finale.