Dallas Keuchel pitched seven scoreless innings in his debut in the Braves’ organization Monday night and afterward expressed hope he might be ready for a spot in Atlanta’s rotation after one more minor-league tuneup.
Signed to a $13-million contract for the rest of the season as a free agent last week, Keuchel started for the Single-A Rome Braves and allowed just one hit while striking out nine and walking one. The 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner had a predictably dominant performance against the young lineup of the Charleston RiverDogs, a Yankees affiliate in the low-A South Atlantic League.
“It was a lot more fun for me than it has been in a long time,” said Keuchel, who pitched under actual game conditions for the first time since the American League Championship Series last October. “It was nice to get back out there, get some adrenaline pumping from game competition and just try to execute as many pitches as I could.
“I probably could have gone an inning more or maybe nine, but up and down seven times was pretty good.”
Asked how many more starts he’ll need before pitching for Atlanta, Keuchel said: “That’s a really good question. I think tomorrow and the second day will really tell me how my body feels. ... But just thinking about it, maybe one more. But we’ll see.”
His next start is scheduled for Saturday, but Keuchel said it hadn’t been determined with which minor-league affiliate that will be.
Speaking with reporters at SunTrust Park on Monday afternoon, Braves manager Brian Snitker expressed similar thoughts as Keuchel regarding a timeline.
“One more (start after Monday) and then we’ll talk to him to see where he’s at,” Snitker said. “… I don’t know if two (minor league) starts will be enough. We’ll find out.”
Keuchel threw 77 pitches Monday night, 55 of them strikes. The only hit he allowed came on a solid single to center field in the second inning.
The RiverDogs were overmatched by his repertoire of fastball, cutter, slider and changeup. His fastball velocity hovered in the high 80s, topping at 89 mph.
“Honestly, until you just said that, I had no idea what it was,” Keuchel said of his velocity. “It’s not necessarily a velocity game with me. It never has been. In California, where I was throwing (before signing), routine-wise I think I was anywhere from 85 to 90. (I was) just trying to stay under control, because I knew in a competitive environment the juices are going to flow and you’re going to have an uptick in velocity.
“I was right where I wanted to be (velocity-wise) in California, and I knew that was going to happen here. So that’s nice to see. I just wanted maybe a few more pitches that were crisp. ... I don’t think I’m anywhere close mentally to where I want to be, but that takes a lot of time and I’m a perfectionist.”
Other than the lone hit against Keuchel — a single by Max Burt — the only balls hit to the outfield against him were two fly-outs to deep left field. The first of those was by RiverDogs catcher Anthony Seigler, who is from Cartersville, on a changeup in the fourth inning. The game was the first in A-ball for Seigler, the Yankees’ first-round draft pick in 2018.
Rome, by the way, broke an eight-game losing streak by winning the game 1-0 on a walk-off single by third baseman Derian Cruz in the 10th inning.
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