By Brett Dolan

Astros fans got to see Dallas Keuchel in full game mode last Saturday, racing across the gridiron at Rhodes Stadium in Katy, catching passes from the ageless Doug Flutie. Huh? It wasn’t exactly throwing fastballs off the mound at Minute Maid Park, but Keuchel even caught a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion in the charity flag football game.

Even more importantly with just days remaining from pitchers and catchers reporting in Florida, Keuchel says his shoulder and arm are feeling great.

“I missed the last month (September), everybody knows that, but I think it was kind of needed and there was nothing I could do about it,” he said. “But ever since the last day of the season I have been busting my butt to get back and I am feeling about as good as I could possibly feel.”

Keuchel even threw a 20 pitch bullpen session last week off elevated ground, 20 pitches, all fastballs and he felt good.

“It felt like I was back home,” he added.

Keuchel threw 232 innings during his 2015 Cy Young season that saw him produce a 20-8 record and a sparkling 2.48 ERA. Last year in 26 starts, he dropped off to a 9-12 mark with a 4.55 earned run average.

The Beard cited a busy off-season in 2015, traveling to accept awards that kept him from his full off-season workout regimen.

“I didn’t come into spring training in as good of shape as I wanted to and from the second start of spring training my arm was barking and I just thought I could push through it and then I pretty much hurt the team until June or July when I started pitching well but by that point it was a little too late.”

Astros manager A.J. Hinch joked during several Super Bowl Radio Row interviews last week that he loved his team but he wanted people to say a little prayer for the health of Keuchel and Lance McCullers.

“It is very important for both of us to be healthy,” Keuchel agreed, “not just for ourselves but the team and that is every team. Key players go down and that hinders your possibility to make a good playoff run and everybody saw what we did in 2015 which was awesome. We are trying to get back there so I think the key ingredients, we are going to score some runs in the regular season.”

Citing the addition of Brian McCannn, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran, Keuchel added that it is exciting for the pitching staff because they like to hear the bombs go off and the music playing for home runs.

“I think during the course of the regular season, scoring runs will get you close to a playoff berth and then obviously pitching will get you deep in the playoffs.”

Long before the stretch run, comes the dog days of spring training, probably more important for Keuchel than in previous years, to be ready to go in April, pain free. He admits it might be a little later in spring, sometime in March, before he makes his first start in an elongated spring camp because of the World Baseball Classic.

“I am in no rush,” he said. “But at the same time I kind of know the schedule my body needs and that includes four to five starts.”



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