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Keuchel says no negotiations once season starts

Ace lefty entering final year of contract; Paulino speaks to media for first time since ban; Hinch impressed by pitchers' readiness
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Dallas Keuchel, who's set to become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season, said Wednesday he won't negotiate with the Astros during the regular season. That means the club would have to try to sign Keuchel this spring or risk watching him hit the open market.

"If there is something, it's going to happen before the season," Keuchel said. "There's going to be no contractual negotiations during the regular season. I feel like that would be a negative light on some of the teammates while those guys are busting their butts. I don't want anything happening behind the scenes with me that would affect those guys. I want to play ball and see where that leads us."

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Dallas Keuchel, who's set to become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season, said Wednesday he won't negotiate with the Astros during the regular season. That means the club would have to try to sign Keuchel this spring or risk watching him hit the open market.

"If there is something, it's going to happen before the season," Keuchel said. "There's going to be no contractual negotiations during the regular season. I feel like that would be a negative light on some of the teammates while those guys are busting their butts. I don't want anything happening behind the scenes with me that would affect those guys. I want to play ball and see where that leads us."

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Keuchel, who went 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA last year, recently hired Scott Boras to represent him, leading many to speculate he would indeed hit the open market this winter at 30 years old. When asked if there had been any long-term contract negotiations, Keuchel said no.

"Whether or not my time here ends after this year, I'd like to leave my mark here and hopefully it's a good one," he said.

Video: McTaggart discusses Keuchel's future with Astros

The 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner, Keuchel was 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA in the first half last year and made the All-Star team before missing eight weeks with a neck issue. He signed a $13.2 million deal in January to avoid arbitration. The lefty was drafted by the Astros out of the University of Arkansas in 2009 and reached the big leagues in '12, before breaking out in '14.

"I've done more in this game that I never envisioned," he said. "Anything after winning the World Series is an added bonus. That's the way I've always taken this game. I play it because I love it."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Paulino apologizes for ban

Astros right-hander David Paulino, the team's No. 5 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, spoke Wednesday with the media for the first time since being suspended 80 games in July for testing positive for boldenone, a performance-enhancing substance. He asked fans to forgive him.

"Apparently, I was using something that was prohibited in this league and it's unfortunate that happened," he said through a translator. "I apologize for that."

Paulino, who underwent surgery in late September to remove bone spurs in his right elbow, was 2-0 with a 6.52 ERA in six starts for the Astros last season after making his big league debut in 2016. He said his body wasn't responding last summer and felt he needed to do something to get healthy. The suspension cost him a shot to be with Houston during its World Series run.

"It was difficult, obviously, to watch this season from the sidelines," he said. "I was not in a good head space and I took some time to be with family and reflect on the past, and I think it was good. With the grace of God, I think things are going to get better."

Hinch to ramp up pitchers steadily

Last spring, the Astros ramped up starting pitchers Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. slowly after both had injury-plagued 2016 seasons. Both spent substantial time on the DL last year, but were healthy at the end of the season and pitched in October. In fact, Keuchel's bullpen session Wednesday was already the fourth he's thrown this spring.

"There's not as much hesitation with those guys," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

The only pitchers who aren't going to throw bullpens as camp gets underway are Brady Rodgers and Jandel Gustave, both of whom had Tommy John surgery last year. They're on limited throwing regimens but could throw in the bullpen in the next six weeks.

As far as the healthy pitchers in camp, Hinch wants the starters to make five or six starts this spring and relievers to have 5-10 outings. He said position players will be brought along more slowly once they report later in the week.

"These guys [pitchers] come in pretty good shape and their readiness has gotten better and better as the years have gone by," Hinch said. "I think they're going to be itching to get on the field. We'll pay attention to the volume. We have a game in about 10 days and we'll ramp our guys up. … We'll be a little careful with the guys that play every day. At the end of the day, we have to prepare. We have to get ready."

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

Houston Astros, Dallas Keuchel, David Paulino