After just two tune-up starts in the minor leagues by Dallas Keuchel, Braves manager Brian Snitker hopes to add the former American League Cy Young Award winner to the starting rotation this week.
“Hoping it’s going to be Friday,” Snitker said Monday of plans for Keuchel’s first start with the big-league Braves. “We’re going to kind of take it day at a time right now, but everything is pointed in that direction.”
The Braves play at Washington Friday in the opener of a three-game series and 10-game road trip.
Keuchel, formerly with the Houston Astros, became a free agent after last season and remained unsigned until June 7, when the Braves inked him to a $13 million contract for the rest of this season. He pitched twice in the Braves’ farm system last week, throwing 77 pitches in seven innings for Single-A Rome on June 10 and 106 pitches in seven innings for Double-A Mississippi five days later.
The NL East-leading Braves are looking forward to a pitcher with Keuchel’s credentials joining their rotation soon.
“It’s going to be big,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said Monday. “Former Cy Young Award winner — when you can add that in the middle of your season, it’s pretty remarkable.
“I think he’s scheduled to make his next (start) with us, so it’s going to be a big boost for us. We’ve got the great defense for him, so I think he’s going to fit in perfectly with our team.”
The Braves haven’t officially announced Friday’s starter and probably will wait a couple more days before making a firm commitment. Asked what could prevent Keuchel from starting that day, Snitker said: “Just talking to him and Alex (general manager Alex Anthopoulos) and seeing what the conversation is going to be. As long as he’s 100 percent with it, then I don’t know why not.”
Keuchel wasn’t available for comment at SunTrust Park on Monday. But after allowing just one hit and no runs at Rome, he suggested two minor-league starts could be enough. And after allowing three runs on 11 hits at Mississippi, he sounded pleased with his continued progress.
“I felt like my breaking stuff and changeup were a little inconsistent at first,” Keuchel told reporters in Pearl, Miss., after Saturday’s start. “I was a little antsy out there. The adrenaline was a little bit more than last time. Once I hone that in, I should be good.
“Getting seven innings and 100-something pitches in, it’s a pretty good taste. The hardest part of it is mentally locking in for (that many) pitches. I’d like to get going with the big club, but we’ll wait and see.”
Although Keuchel, 31, a seven-year MLB veteran and the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, missed all of spring training and the first two-plus months of this season, Snitker thinks the two minor-league starts will prove to be sufficient preparation for him.
“Just in talking to him, it seems like it will,” Snitker said. “I think younger guys, as I’ve seen this year, absolutely do (need a full spring training). But I think an older veteran guy that is established probably can get away without it.”
Keuchel, a left-hander, threw regularly on his own as his time without a team dragged out.
“He was in good shape (when the Braves signed him), and you could tell he had done the work,” Snitker said.
Snitker also expects pitcher Sean Newcomb, struck in the back of the head by a 102-mph line drive during a spot start Saturday, to be back in action this week. Newcomb will resume a bullpen role.
“Other than being sore, he doesn’t test (as) symptomatic of anything going on,” Snitker said. “He’s not under any restrictions at all.
“It could be as soon as Wednesday,” Snitker said of when Newcomb will next be used out of the bullpen. “Could be after the off day (Thursday).”