HOUSTON -- He insists this Opening Day assignment, when he starts for the Astros against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park on Monday at 7:10 p.m. CT, won't feel different than it did last year, but lefty Dallas Keuchel is happy to enter the season focusing on refining his pitches
HOUSTON -- He insists this Opening Day assignment, when he starts for the Astros against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park on Monday at 7:10 p.m. CT, won't feel different than it did last year, but lefty Dallas Keuchel is happy to enter the season focusing on refining his pitches and not his health.
Keuchel, who went 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA last year after his American League Cy Young Award-winning season of 2015, dealt with shoulder discomfort all of last season, but he looked strong this spring, raising the team's hopes he can return to his Cy Young form in a season in which the Astros are one of the AL favorites.
"I don't know if it feels any different," Keuchel said. "The only difference is we've got a better team. I go about my business the same way each and every year, and that's to get myself ready to go nine innings. If I don't go nine innings, I go eight. If I don't go eight, I go seven. If I don't go seven, it's a failure. It's the same for me. Just like I said, the team vibe is different and that's the main thing."
Keuchel, 29, missed the final month of last season after being diagnosed with shoulder inflammation, a condition he later revealed that he battled all season. Through rest and recovery -- and a carefully mapped-out Spring Training throwing regimen -- he came through in four spring starts with ease.
"I'm happy with where he's at, because he's talking about competing and making pitches and pitch selection, the shape of his cutter and all things that are baseball-oriented and not rehab-oriented," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I'm happy how he's attacking the game. He wants to be perfect. He's never satisfied."
The Astros have won four consecutive Opening Day games, with Keuchel throwing seven scoreless innings to beat the Indians in 2015 and going seven innings to beat the Yankees last year. The lefty is the first Astros pitcher to start three consecutive Opening Day games since Roy Oswalt started eight in a row from 2003-10.
"It's definitely an honor," Keuchel said. "I like being the guy that our team looks to to start things off and finish things. There's a lot of hype and a lot of hoopla and entertainment the first day. I'm not really into a lot of it, but when it gets down to the first pitch, everybody's going to be ready to go, it's just going to be like every other game. We're going to try to get the win and do the best we can."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.