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Keuchel likely won't return until after ASG

Astros ace progressing with neck injury, but club being very cautious
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

SEATTLE -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Sunday it's growing more likely that ace left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who is on the disabled list retroactive to June 5 with neck discomfort, won't return to game action until after the All-Star break.

The Astros are being extremely cautious with Keuchel, who has yet to throw off a mound since going on the DL for the second time this year with a neck issue. The lefty has been limited to playing catch at 120 feet, and Hinch said there's no timetable to get him on a mound yet.

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SEATTLE -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Sunday it's growing more likely that ace left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who is on the disabled list retroactive to June 5 with neck discomfort, won't return to game action until after the All-Star break.

The Astros are being extremely cautious with Keuchel, who has yet to throw off a mound since going on the DL for the second time this year with a neck issue. The lefty has been limited to playing catch at 120 feet, and Hinch said there's no timetable to get him on a mound yet.

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"He's continuing to progress," Hinch said. "We're going a little bit slower than maybe we could or he could, just being conservative. We've worked so hard to get him to continue to progress with no setbacks. We want to just keep methodically putting a few more challenges in front of him and making him feel a little bit better.

"We're reaching a point [where] we're going to have to make a decision about the [All-Star] break, so we're sort of in this gray area of whether or not we're going to be able to push him fast enough to get back before the break. We'll know more in the next week or so, but there's a deadline looming here to see if he's going to get back into Major League action before the break. It's a good approach for him and for us as a team, but it's obviously been a long process."

Keuchel is 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts this year, but no longer has enough innings to qualify among the league leaders in ERA. He's thrown 75 2/3 innings. If he doesn't return to the Astros by the All-Star break, that would affect his availability to represent the club in the Midsummer Classic. He started for the American League in 2015.

Video: HOU@TEX: Keuchel shuts down Rangers, improves to 9-0

With the All-Star break only two weeks away, the Astros don't feel compelled to rush Keuchel, especially with a huge lead in the AL West. Having a rested and healthy Keuchel to open the second half could set them up well for him to pitch deep into October without a huge innings load.

It's not clear whether Keuchel would need a Minor League rehab start or be put right back into big league contests when he's cleared to pitch in a game, but Hinch said the team has to be careful with its ace.

"He's a guy that once he comes back, we want him to be back at full strength without symptoms and not having to drag this out throughout the rest of the season," Hinch said. "Obviously, we have a comfortable position that we're in now.

"I'm never comfortable enough to not want to play the best players, but we would be making a huge error if we pushed him to the point of stressing him and potentially losing him for longer. We've worked so hard to get him back to where he is now. We're going to stay very, very conservative and very diligent in getting him back to full strength."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Dallas Keuchel