Keuchel, a 31-year-old left-hander, hasn’t pitched in a major-league game since the American League Championship Series last October. The fact he was without a team through spring training and the first two-plus months of this season -- and is making his Atlanta debut after just two minor-league tuneups -- will add intrigue to Friday’s start. He’ll be opposed by the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg (7-4, 3.75).
Snitker said Keuchel’s seven-inning, 106-pitch outing for Double-A Mississippi on Saturday demonstrated he is physically ready to join the rotation despite the long layoff during his protracted free agency.
“I’m just anxious to watch him pitch and get him in our mix,” Snitker said. “I think he’s going to be a significant get for us. I think anytime you get somebody that comes with that pedigree and all, it’s pretty good.
“I think he’ll be a definite asset for a lot of our young pitchers and probably some of our older guys, too. The preparation (he does), the success he has had, the instant credibility a guy like that brings – he’ll be good for all the guys.”
Braves catcher Brian McCann, who caught Keuchel with Houston the past two seasons, is expected to be behind the plate for Keuchel’s Braves debut. “I think it’ll be an added plus to have somebody he’s familiar with,” Snitker said.
Over the three full seasons since his Cy Young award, Keuchel posted a 3.77 ERA for Houston and remained one of MLB’s best pitchers at inducing ground balls.
The Braves landed Donaldson and Keuchel as free agents for contracts totaling $36 million for this season. Donaldson signed a one-year $23 million deal in November, and Keuchel signed a $13 million contract for the rest of the season on June 7.
Keuchel joins the Braves just as Donaldson's hitting has started to resemble his MVP season. He is 15-for-39 (.385) with six home runs and a 1.312 OPS over a current nine-game hitting streak that has excited the Braves' clubhouse.
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LEADOFF NOTES AND NUMBERS
> Entering this weekend's series at Nationals Park, the Braves have 14 wins in their past 18 games and the Nats 17 wins in their past 24 games. Washington swept three games from Philadelphia over the past two days. The Braves are 0-2 against the Nationals this season but lead the third-place Nats by 7-1/2 games in the NL East standings. The second-place Phillies are 4-1/2 games behind the Braves.
> Relief pitcher Anthony Swarzak has a 0.66 ERA (one earned run in 13-2/3 innings across 13 appearances) since the Braves acquired him from Seattle in a May 20 trade. "I can't say enough about the job he has done -- big outs, high-leverage situations all the time," Snitker said.
> As a team, the Braves have hit at least two home runs in each of six consecutive games -- one game short of the franchise's Atlanta record of seven consecutive such games.
> Freeman's 21 home runs, the most in his career before the All-Star break, include 14 in his past 32 games.