Both were student-athletes at the University of Arkansas in 2009 prior to meeting up again with the White Sox for this season. But according to McCann, one big pitch has emerged as the most noticeable change in Keuchel since those collegiate years.
“The biggest difference is the cutter. He didn’t have the cutter in college,” said McCann, who supported his teammate with three hits and a home run during the White Sox first victory of 2020. “That’s something that's a difference-maker in my opinion for him once he got to pro ball.
“But he’s always been a control guy with the two-seam and the changeup, and mixing the slower breaking ball. The big difference for me is the cutter, by the way he attacks, and the confidence he has and the competitor he is. That’s who he’s been since we played together in college.”
McCann made his season debut Saturday, but for Keuchel, it also marked his White Sox debut after agreeing to a three-year, $55.5 million free-agent deal this past offseason. Keuchel had been almost flawless during Summer Camp intrasquad action and one exhibition start against the Cubs, and he looked very similar through the first five innings.
Minnesota managed just one infield hit, by Mitch Garver in the fourth, with Keuchel recording eight outs via the ground ball and striking out one. Keuchel was charged with two runs over 5 1/3 innings, inducing five swinging strikes, per Statcast. But he attacked the zone as usual and had an effective four-pitch mix between his cutter, changeup, sinker and slider to shut down the potent Twins offense.
“A guy like Dallas Keuchel can go into a game and kind of feel the game out,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He also has the ability to hit spots better than most Major League pitchers at the very least, and if he has something that’s going or he’s getting a part of the zone, he can take advantage of that because he knows what he’s doing and he’s able to execute.”
“I'm just trying not to hit the barrel,” Keuchel said. “There were a few times I got away with some stuff, but more times than not today, I was very fortunate to mix pitches, either when I had to or early in the count to kind of get them off-balance.”
Although the White Sox scored just one run in four innings off of Twins spot starter Randy Dobnak, they knocked around relievers Zack Littell and Devin Smeltzer for four runs each in the fifth and seventh innings. Leury García homered twice and drove in four, and Edwin Encarnación and Eloy Jiménez also went deep in the fifth.
Saturday’s effort became a nice bounce-back game for García, who had a few close plays not go his way defensively at second base during Friday’s loss to Minnesota. He became the 11th player in franchise history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game, and he leads this bruising White Sox attack in homers.
“It feels good,” a smiling García said. “I’m not trying to hit the home run. I know what I can do. But the wind helped a little bit. It’s the second game, so we’ll see.”
“[García is] a pretty good player, so I don't really get too worried about him,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “Today he comes up, has some great at-bats. I guess a redeemer.”
The White Sox have scored 15 runs and launched six home runs from five different people over their first two games of the season. But it was the Keuchel/McCann combination that set the tone in this season-opening American League Central matchup between potential division title contenders.
"It's going to be a dogfight, that's for sure,” Keuchel said. “I know we're looking forward to it; they're probably looking forward to it over there. Probably want to allow a little less runs the first couple games than what we've both allowed.”