Keuchel K's 9; slated for another Minors start

June 11th, 2019

ATLANTA -- Braves manager Brian Snitker expects to make at least two Minor League starts before being added to Atlanta’s active roster. But like all parties involved, Snitker said there is no need to commit to a strict timeframe.

Keuchel met Snitker and some of his new Braves teammates at SunTrust Park on Monday afternoon. The former American League Cy Young Award winner then drove approximately 40 minutes north to start Class A Rome’s game against Charleston (S.C.).

It didn’t take long for Keuchel to make a good first impression with his new organization. He allowed one hit and recorded nine strikeouts while needing just 77 pitches to complete seven scoreless innings for Rome.

The Braves signed Keuchel to a one-year, $13 million deal on Friday. Though the contract states the 31-year-old southpaw needs to be brought up to the Major League level by June 18, some adjustments will likely be made to the initial plan to account for the fact that his first scheduled start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday was rained out.

“He’ll probably make one more [start],” Snitker said. “Then, we’ll talk to him and see where he’s at. He’s been working out and he has his pitches up.”

Keuchel would have to travel to Syracuse if the Braves want him to make his next start at the Triple-A level. He could also start one of the games of a doubleheader that Double-A Mississippi will host on Saturday.

But despite the fact that endured a third consecutive disappointing start, exiting in the third inning of Monday night’s game against the Pirates, it still seems unlikely Keuchel would pitch for Atlanta on Saturday. Because he was optioned on Friday, Keuchel is not eligible to be placed on the Major League roster before June 17, unless he is replacing a player on the injured list.

As Keuchel endured the final stages of his frustrating eight-month stay on the free-agent market, he kept himself prepared by pitching simulated games against some high school and college players in California. Physically, he conditioned himself to the point of throwing 105 pitches over seven innings. But from a mental perspective, he was not able to simulate the competitive juices created by pitching in a professional setting.

Snitker has repeatedly said the struggles for and over the past couple months were influenced by the fact that both missed all of Spring Training. Now the Braves seem ready to throw Keuchel into the fire after making what may amount to just two starts.

But Snitker said because of the experience level, it would be more appropriate to compare Keuchel to Ben Sheets, who was coaching his son’s baseball team before the Braves brought him out of retirement in July 2012. Sheets made two starts for Double-A Mississippi and then he gave Atlanta all that was remaining in an arm that had been surgically repaired numerous times.

Of course, there are obvious differences. Keuchel is less of a health risk and much more expensive than Sheets, whose 2012 earnings were slightly more than $1 million, which is slightly higher than what Keuchel will make per start over the remainder of this season.

“[Keuchel] is an established Major League player,” Snitker said. “The other two guys we’re talking about aren’t. They’re still learning their craft. They don’t have the history of success that this guy does to fall back on.”