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Sim game puts Keuchel on track for Grapefruit action

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Dallas Keuchel cleared his final hurdle before being slotted into the Astros' rotation in the Grapefruit League when the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner threw 39 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday morning on a back field at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Keuchel, who's on an individualized throwing program this spring after missing last September with shoulder inflammation, faced three Minor League hitters three times each and had four strikeouts, two walks and no hits allowed. He proclaimed himself ready for game action, which could come as early as Sunday against the Nationals.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Dallas Keuchel cleared his final hurdle before being slotted into the Astros' rotation in the Grapefruit League when the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner threw 39 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday morning on a back field at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Keuchel, who's on an individualized throwing program this spring after missing last September with shoulder inflammation, faced three Minor League hitters three times each and had four strikeouts, two walks and no hits allowed. He proclaimed himself ready for game action, which could come as early as Sunday against the Nationals.

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"That was nice to get out there and really command the ball for the first time, really feel like a game situation to the best of our ability," Keuchel said. "The live BPs are nice to get out and face some hitters, but this was a little bit like a game situation. The body felt good, arm felt good. Just tweaking a few minor things still, but I've got four or five other starts, and by the time we end Spring Training, we'll be in good form."

If Keuchel pitches every fifth day through the end of spring, he would make four starts in Florida before likely getting the ball on Opening Day again.

"I'm right where I want to be and right where we mapped out the schedule a month ago," Keuchel said. "If anything, I might be ahead of schedule. That's always a good thing because of the way I tried to get through last season, and obviously missing September was bad news. Just to get out there and be able to throw four innings if I really needed to right now is a good sign."

Video: Keuchel's shoulder was an issue throughout 2016

The Astros were off Tuesday, but several pitchers worked out at the facility, including Lance McCullers Jr. and Collin McHugh. Astros manager A.J. Hinch, general manager Jeff Luhnow and Darek Braunecker, Keuchel's agent, watched the lefty throw.

Hinch said Keuchel had good movement, which was a sign he was manipulating the ball and had arm strength.

"I thought it was a good day," Hinch said. "I thought today was the most comfortable that I've seen him, really this entire offseason and into the spring. There's a confidence that's brewing with him, which is good to see. … He used his legs a little bit better, his arm was free. I was very encouraged today."

Keuchel threw all of his pitches and struggled a tad with his command out of the stretch, which he said is always the last area to come together each spring. He was getting behind in some counts, but he was able to get outs and he even threw a few offspeed pitches for strikes. He said fastball command will be the key.

"The main thing is my mechanics really suffered last year," Keuchel said. "I was trying to piece everything together just to feel good every start, and you develop a lot of bad habits when you're not feeling your best. The shoulder is one of, if not, the most vital key for pitchers, obviously. And I'm trying to get back to being more athletic and making sure I'm driving down the hill straight to the catcher."

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

Houston Astros, Dallas Keuchel