Keuchel invigorates Braves on and off the hill

September 12th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- When the Braves signed to a one-year deal in June, manager Brian Snitker knew the 2015 Cy Young Award winner could be just as valuable to his club on the mound as he could be in the dugout.

While the latter has been apparent since the moment he arrived in Atlanta, Keuchel has spent the past month leaving no doubt that he can still be an ace-caliber southpaw when he takes the hill. He continued his recent dominance in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, allowing just one run over six innings and striking out eight to help the Braves maintain their 9 1/2-game lead in the National League East and lower their magic number to clinch the division to eight.

“It’s been great. It’s what he does," Snitker said. "The guy competes, he leaves it out there every time he pitches. I mean, he gives everything he has out there. He had to work tonight. It wasn’t easy. But he just keeps pitching.”

Keuchel has a 0.97 ERA over his last six starts, while pitching at least six innings and allowing two runs or fewer in each of those outings. That's the longest single-season streak by a Braves left-hander since also did it in six straight games in 2002.

The impressive run comes on the heels of arguably the worst outing of his career, an Aug. 8 loss against the last-place Marlins. After being tagged for eight runs on 10 hits in just 3 2/3 innings in that forgettable start in Miami, Keuchel has allowed only four runs total over 37 innings since.

The difference? His pitch selection.

Keuchel threw 53 two-seamers and 20 changeups against the Phillies, a mix that accounted for 75% of his pitches. He threw only three cutters, nine fewer than any of his other 15 starts this season.

"This nice little run I’ve been on, I’ve kind of found the good, late movement two-seam," Keuchel said. "I didn’t really throw too many cutters tonight. It wasn’t by design, it’s just because the two-seam and changeup were working really well."

Yet on a night when Keuchel racked up eight strikeouts -- his second most in 16 starts with Atlanta -- it was a perfectly timed ground ball that proved to be the biggest out of the night.

With the Braves clinging to a two-run lead courtesy of ’ three-run homer, Phillies outfielder stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and only one out in the fifth. Keuchel escaped the threat by spotting a two-seam fastball just below the knees, forcing Harper to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

It's Keuchel’s performance in those types of situations that Snitker wants his young rotation to draw from moving forward.

“It’s been valuable ever since he got here, because every time I look down the bench it’s him and [Mike] Soroka or him and talking," Snitker said. "Talking to him when we got him, he was kind of looking at what we had and the young pitchers, and we knew he was going to be good for them -- and he is. The preparation, the work ethic, the competitiveness are all really good things for those young guys to witness and be a part of.”

Though Keuchel has carried the load over the past month, those “young guys” have certainly followed suit. Atlanta's starting rotation has a 2.81 ERA dating back to Aug. 9. That's the second best in the Majors during that span behind only the Cardinals (2.73), a potential postseason opponent.

“We’ve got a really, really good team and it’s kind of filled with guys who work and try to hone their craft," Keuchel said. "It’s just a joy to be around, and a lot of the younger guys get it, too.”