ST. LOUIS -- With a chance to advance to the National League Championship Series on Monday, the Braves handed the ball to Dallas Keuchel.
Manager Brian Snitker said the Braves decided on Sunday night to send Keuchel to the mound on short rest in Game 4 with a chance to clinch the NL Division Series on the road. The club officially announced the decision on Monday morning, hours before first pitch at Busch Stadium.
“He's ready,” Snitker said. “He's good to go. He's gassed up. And, again, I said that when we started the series: That's why we got him. I feel good about him going out there today.”
The starter’s final line wasn’t necessarily what the Braves hoped to see, though. The veteran left-hander gave up three homers, two of them to right-handed-hitting left fielder Marcell Ozuna, and Keuchel exited with one out in the fourth inning while the Cardinals were leading, 3-1.
Keuchel threw 67 pitches in 3 1/3 innings before giving way to reliever Luke Jackson, who escaped the fourth by striking out Paul DeJong and Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson.
Snitker said after the Braves’ Game 3 victory that they were still discussing their options, partially because they were still processing their emotional and dramatic comeback against the Cardinals. But things lined up for the Braves so that they could send Keuchel to the mound in Game 4 while holding Mike Foltynewicz for a possible Game 5 at SunTrust Park on Wednesday, if necessary.
But with an off-day scheduled for Tuesday, the Braves can aggressively use their pitching staff as they attempt to advance to the NLCS for the first time since 2001. To that end, Foltynewicz will be available out of the bullpen in Game 4, Snitker said Monday morning.
The only Braves pitcher who wasn’t available for Game 4 is Game 3 starter Mike Soroka. If the Cardinals win Game 4 and Foltynewicz doesn’t pitch on Monday, Foltynewicz would be the likely choice to start Game 5 after his dominant outing in Game 2.
Keuchel pitched Game 4 on three days’ rest in the potential series-clinching game -- a rare experience for the eight-year veteran. In fact, it was only Keuchel’s third career start on short rest.
“He wants the ball. I don't think moments or situations are going to be too big for him, ever,” Snitker said. “And, like I say, this is what he's made for, I think, and built for.”
In 2013, Keuchel began the season in the Astros’ bullpen, then moved into the rotation and pitched six innings against the Rangers on two days’ rest. In '15, he started the American League Wild Card Game for the Astros and worked six scoreless innings against the Yankees only four days after his final regular-season start.
Keuchel only threw 74 pitches against the Cardinals in Game 1 on Thursday at SunTrust Park. He allowed one run on five hits and three walks without recording a strikeout over 4 2/3 innings.
“I know it's a day short, but he didn't have an extended, just a grueling outing in his first one either,” Snitker said. “So that's why we feel really good about him going out there today.”
Keuchel had only pitched at Busch Stadium once in his career, and that outing came during his rookie season in 2012. Keuchel, who was 24 at the time, gave up six runs (five earned) on five hits in four innings of work, but the only player in the Cardinals’ lineup he faced then who’s still with St. Louis is catcher Yadier Molina.
Even before deciding on their Game 4 starter, the Braves were confident that they could close out the series before heading home.
“The one thing that we've talked about all year, and that makes this team so special, is we come out and we play tomorrow's game,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “We don't worry about what happened tonight. We're not worried about what's happening in the future. We always stay where our feet are, and that moment is to come out each inning, each pitch, and hopefully be able to come out of here with a victory.”