No surprise: Keuchel to start Opening Day

Hinch makes 'obvious' choice to hand ball to AL Cy Young winner

February 20th, 2016

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- There was really no need for a formal announcement, so Astros manager A.J. Hinch mentioned in passing on Saturday morning something that was pretty much a given: Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel will start for the club on Opening Day.

The Opening Day nod will be the second in a row for Keuchel, who will face the Yankees on April 4 at Yankee Stadium. That's the same place he shut down the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game in October, throwing six scoreless innings.

"I can state the obvious," Hinch said. "That's not the hardest decision I'm going to have to make in this job."

Keuchel, 28, became the Astros' third Cy Young winner last season, when he went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA in 33 games. He also won his second consecutive AL Gold Glove along with several other awards -- including Astros Most Valuable Player and Pitcher of the Year. Keuchel, perhaps with a sense of sarcasm, was reserved in his comments because he said Hinch had yet to tell him.

"It would be the same thing as last year," Keuchel said. "It would feel great to go out there and lead the team the first game. It would mean the world to me. I would definitely be humbled by it and I would feel honored. I know when he pulled me into his office last year for the first time, it was quite a bit of joy and enthusiasm, so I'm sure it would be the same thing if I were chosen this year again."

On Saturday, Keuchel threw his first bullpen of the spring and said it went well. The Astros have put a few of their pitchers, including Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers, on individual schedules this year to help with rest and recovery coming off career-high innings.

"I felt good," Keuchel said. "It was great to get off the mound. I'm definitely not game-ready, but that will come. I've just got to stay with the process and trust my routine to get there and just have fun. It's nice to get off elevated dirt and throw to the catcher."

Hinch will likely take quite some time to announce the rest of the rotation, with 19-game winner McHugh and right-hander McCullers having locked up spots. Doug Fister, Scott Feldman and Mike Fiers are battling for the final two slots, as the Astros can flex some impressive pitching depth.

"We have six guys that I know, without a shadow of a doubt, they're ready to pitch in the big leagues as starting pitchers," Hinch said. "The race for the first five is going to be a topic I'm going to get asked about all the time. I'm shrugging it off as 'I'll see what happens.' …

"Outside of Keuchel on Opening Day, I haven't announced anything and I don't plan to. It's sort of disrespectful to call any of those guys potential non-starters."