GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dallas Keuchel feels great.
And the White Sox left-hander is not just talking improved overall physical condition from the 2021 season as he looks to bounce back after posting a 5.28 ERA over 32 appearances (30 starts). He holds the same strong feeling about the ’22 team.
“This is what I signed up for personally,” Keuchel said while on the back fields at Camelback Ranch prior to Monday’s Cactus League game with the Dodgers. “Before I came over, [general manager] Rick Hahn promised, ‘Hey, we’re not done, and this is our window,’ and that was nice to hear, but seeing it backed up is even better.
“On paper, this has to be the best bullpen I’ve ever been with. Rotation-wise, it could be very similar. The names just haven’t been exposed for that long. You combine that with guys in the lineup, I mean, it’s just a matter of going out and playing. But it makes you want to come to the park and play, and be there for the guys.”
The White Sox bullpen has been a frequent topic of Spring Training conversation with the free-agent additions of Kendal Graveman and Joe Kelly to a relief crew already featuring closer Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel and southpaws Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet. Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease anchor the rotation.
A strong campaign from Keuchel will help the cause. The veteran is one year removed from a 1.99 ERA produced over 11 starts in the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 season and he understands the rotation configuration will be influenced by Michael Kopech’s move from the bullpen with an innings limit attached.
“I've always been a big proponent of how you finish the year before is how you should start,” Keuchel said. “It doesn't matter if you're 22 years old or you're 34. Lance finished top three [in the American League Cy Young vote], and I think he should get the Opening Day start. Gio had a really, really great second half.
“Kopech is going to be a starter, so it's, 'Hey, how are we going to blanket him because he's not going to be able to go very long?' We've got to be smart with how we line up guys. And I told [pitching coach Ethan] Katz, ‘If you need me to go before Kopech on the 4 or 3 and he's 4, or if he's 4, I'll be 5 to kind of make sure that we're going to fill some innings in after his start.' Because we're going to use three or four [bullpen] guys for the first month, month and a half when Mike takes the ball.
“It doesn't really bother me,” Keuchel added. “I feel great. I'm ready to go and my stuff is pretty crisp for what it is right now. Outs are outs, so I would expect [manager] Tony [La Russa] not to be pulling me in the fifth or taking the ball in the second or third inning like it was the second half of last year.”
In that second half, Keuchel finished with a 6.82 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) against a 4.25 ERA before the All-Star break. Keuchel’s back stood out as his biggest health issue, but he added the feet, ankle mobility, calves and hamstrings are all products of that same problem.
Pilates was added to his offseason workout regimen to get him ready for the season, and Keuchel is set for that first Cactus League outing on Tuesday against the Brewers at Maryvale Stadium. Keuchel has returned to working out of the windup.
“I never really want to tinker with stuff,” Keuchel said. “If you tinker with stuff, it's usually when you're in a good spot. Usually when you're in a bad spot and you start tinkering, that's not easy on the mind.
“This game's hard enough as it is. If I have to start tinkering, then that's a time I should start thinking about hanging it up.”
Being left off the White Sox AL Division Series roster against Houston last year bothered Keuchel, although he would have been there for a seven-game playoff series, per La Russa. But Keuchel took a step back to assess this offseason and made sure he was ready to help the White Sox toward their next playoff goal.
“We got beat by a really good team in Houston: We knew that going in. They made the World Series, but we played hard. See if we can’t make that next jump,” Keuchel said. “We have a really good staff and I’ll take our guys against anybody.”