Entering spring training, and even in the early days of the regular season, it seemed far-fetched that the Braves would be the destination of Dallas Keuchel’s extended free agency. In September, it’s unfathomable to think about where they’d be without him.
Tyler Flowers’ three-run shot in the fourth was the only offense in the Braves’ 3-1 win in Philadelphia. His home run was complemented by another standout performance from Keuchel, who tossed six scoreless innings.
“It’s been nice (being a Brave), it’s been everything I’d thought it’d be,” Keuchel said. “I thought I did alright tonight. I think it was more of the Flow (Flowers) show tonight. He provided all the offense and he’s one of the best backstops around.”
Since Keuchel was lit up in Miami, allowing eight runs that pumped his ERA to 4.83, he’s been a new man. The southpaw owns a 0.97 ERA across his past six starts. He’ll allow baserunners, as he did Wednesday, but he finds ways out of it.
His veteran savvy was needed on a mostly untested Braves staff. His latest start perfectly illustrated that craftiness.
“It’s been great (having him pitch every fifth day),” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s what he does. He competes. He leaves it out there every time he pitches. He gives everything he has out there. He had to work tonight. It wasn’t easy. But he just keeps pitching. He has an idea of what he’s doing, he knows the lineup, he manages the game within the game himself. That’s why he’s been so successful.”
Keuchel didn’t allow a hit until the fourth, when Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins greeted him with consecutive singles. Harper advanced to third on Hoskins’ hit, scoring on an ensuing fielder’s choice. Keuchel struck out the next two to end the inning. The Braves kept a 3-1 lead.
The Phillies had a one-out single and walk in the fifth, again positioning themselves to pull even. J.T. Realmuto was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Harper. Keuchel coaxed a double play from the former MVP, escaping trouble.
As rain began pouring down in the sixth, Keuchel fanned Hoskins and Scott Kingery. He generated a harmless grounder for Corey Dickerson to end his night.
It was nights like Wednesday that show Keuchel’s value beyond performance. Every time he works his way out of a jam, it’s a learning lesson for Mike Soroka, Max Fried and other young Braves, according to his manager.
“It’s been valuable ever since he got here,” Snitker said. “Every time I look down the bench it’s him and Soroka or him and Max Fried. Talking to him when we got him, looking at what we had, we knew he’d be good for them. And he has been. The preparation, the work ethic, the competitiveness. It’s all really good things for those young guys to witness and be a part of.”
Keuchel allowed one run on three hits across his six innings, lowering his ERA to 3.35. He struck out eight, looking particularly effective with a three-pitch mix of his two-seamer, change-up and slider.
“His slider was really nice today, he had a good feel for his change-up,” Flowers said. “Pretty standard Dallas. No panic in him. Just trying to execute pitches, trust in his defense. Good stuff.”
Keuchel’s outing set the stage for the three trade-deadline acquisitions – Chris Martin, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon – to pitch the final three innings. Martin struck out three Phillies on nine pitches, recording the fifth immaculate inning in team history. Greene followed with a scoreless inning that included a walk. Melancon stranded two to record the save, getting help from Dansby Swanson’s and Josh Donaldson’s web gems.
So Keuchel, who wasn’t in the Braves’ initial plans, continues to be worth every dime of that $13 million. Following the game, a Phillies reporter asked Keuchel if he had extra motivation facing the Phillies, who were also in need of pitching help but opted not to pursue the veteran despite their deep pockets.
“If you don’t come calling, what is there for me to be mad about?” Keuchel said. “I think a lot of those guys over there in the front office are second-guessing themselves. I would too.”
Second-guessing or not, it looks like Keuchel - and his Braves - are getting the last laugh.
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