OAKLAND -- Dallas Keuchel's latest performance won’t come anywhere close to making his personal highlight reel from this season. He’s pitched better in the past, and he knows he’s capable of more. With the circumstances in mind, however, Keuchel’s outing on Wednesday night in Oakland was plenty encouraging.
Keuchel shook off his worst two-start stretch of the season, taking a step forward even as he allowed five runs across 5 2/3 innings in the White Sox 5-1 loss to the A’s at Oakland Coliseum. The results themselves may not look spectacular, but in the words of manager Tony La Russa, the score only tells one story.
“He made progress, which to me, that's a positive,” said La Russa.
The southpaw’s final line score wasn't all that impressive by his standards, but it was much better than other recent outings. In Keuchel’s previous two starts, he allowed 12 runs (10 earned) in just four innings. Against the Cubs on Aug. 27, Keuchel only lasted one inning, the shortest start of his career. The only place to go was up.
And for the most part, he did flash signs of progress, despite the box score. The A’s hit the ball hard against him -- Oakland had eight balls in play that were classified as hard-hit -- but he only yielded one walk, bucking a recent trend in which his control was unconventionally shaky. For Keuchel, as well as the White Sox as a whole, any progress is welcome.
“Obviously, everything didn't take care of itself,” Keuchel said, "but the process of getting back to who I am, how my career has been, I felt like I was there tonight. That was a huge step in the right direction and there's really nothing else I can really say.”
For the White Sox to operate at maximum strength come October, they’ll need the veteran to continue trending upward and reversing one of the most inconsistent stretches of his career. Since his start on Aug. 5, Keuchel has an 8.24 ERA across 31 2/3 innings (seven games). The ultimate goal, one that Keuchel has kept in mind all season, is to right the ship, so to speak, in the handful of weeks remaining before the postseason begins.
Keuchel should have about four more starts between now and then, but in terms of feel, the southpaw believes he’s right there.
“I'm almost like a three-point shooter in basketball where you've got to have that touch, that feel,” Keuchel said. “For the most part tonight, I had it. I honestly was just focusing on going from A to B, straight from the rubber to home plate.”
Keuchel came very close to his night ringing a different tone. He was one out away from completing the sixth inning and securing a quality start when Chad Pinder slapped a triple into the right-field corner, knocking in a run and ending Keuchel’s night. A fifth and final run was added to his tally when reliever José Ruiz gave up an RBI single to Elvis Andrus, scoring Pinder.
The lefty needed to be at his best on a night that saw Chicago’s offense squander numerous opportunities against Frankie Montas, who allowed one run across seven innings. The White Sox combined to go 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base.
The offense set the table for potential big innings early and often. In the second inning, Chicago had runners at the corners, but Brian Goodwin, filling in for a banged up Eloy Jiménez, hit into an inning-ending double play. The following half-inning, the A’s scored the game’s first run, a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Three innings later, the White Sox were gifted a golden opportunity as first baseman Matt Olson's throwing error allowed a run to score and put runners on second and third with one out and the top of the order due up. Luis Robert grounded out weakly and Yoán Moncada flied out to end the threat and cap Chicago's scoring on the night.
"We hit into some double plays,” La Russa said. “You've got to get on base, and you've got to put the ball in play. If you strike out, that's not good. So we did two good things: got on base to start it, and we put it in play. But [Montas] has got good stuff.”
Keuchel, when he’s on and has the feel for his pitches, is also capable of having the good stuff. His latest start may not have been all that impressive by the standard he has established over the years, but he's moving in the right direction. If he continues to take steps between now and October, he and the White Sox will likely be satisfied with the results.