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Keuchel says he's back following spring debut

By CHUCK KING

Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Houston manager A.J. Hinch wasn't pleased to lose an hour of sleep to daylight saving time on Saturday night, but there was a silver lining.

He was giving the ball to Dallas Keuchel for his spring debut.

"We were so excited to get Keuchel on the mound we stole an hour," Hinch joked.

It worked out quite well, too. Keuchel pitched three scoreless innings in Houston's 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals on Sunday.

The only hit allowed by Keuchel was a squibber off the end of Stephen Drew's bat that hopped over third base, resulting in a double.

"I was a little nervous going out there, I'm not going to lie," said Keuchel, who was hampered by shoulder issues last season. "Once you get hurt for the first time you kind of appreciate when you're actually healthy. I didn't really know what to expect. I'm as strong as ever but at the same time I hadn't really faced competition to where my body was going to give me a little bit more adrenaline."

Keuchel, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, threw 21 of his 35 pitches for strikes. His fastball topped out at 90 mph several times on the stadium's radar gun, with one of those heaters being taken for a called third strike by Adam Eaton for Keuchel's lone strikeout.

That's about the range where Keuchel resides during the regular season, and the pop on his fastball even surprised the lefty a bit.

"Velocity is probably the last thing that I'm concerned with," Hinch said. "Obviously with him and mechanics, it's always repeatability with him."

Keuchel's control wasn't perfect, but it was in line with what would be expected of most any pitcher making his first spring start.

His mechanics didn't offer much reason for concern.

"I think that's just because it was free and easy compared to last year when it was kind of hit-or-miss how I was going to feel," Keuchel said. "That's a good sign. I think that I was actually a little bit stronger then what I would have expected."

Keuchel went 24-8 with a 2.48 ERA in 2015. But he struggled to a 9-12 record and 4.55 ERA in 26 starts last year before his season was cut short by shoulder inflammation.

Houston brought Keuchel along slowly this spring, and he has yet to experience any pain in his shoulder. He threw a simulated game last week.

At his current pace Keuchel would make four Grapefruit League starts prior to the beginning of the season.

"Four is the minimum, and that's what we have left so we sort of have to accept it unless we want to make other plans," Hinch said. "We did count the simulated game where he went two-plus innings as an outing, so it's actually five."

Updated March 12, 2017

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