Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 6/23/12
HOUSTON Dallas Keuchel answered the questions at a measured clip, ignoring the humorous requests from teammates to remove his hat and jersey top while addressing the media following a serendipitous result. The gravity of the moment should have landed like an anvil by now, yet Keuchel remained composed. The left-hander had just earned his first big-league victory, doing so while recording the Astros' first complete game this season. Yet beyond a broad smile, Keuchel appeared unfazed. Astros catcher Jason Castro broached that Keuchel cool in the aftermath of their 8-1 win on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, a triumph that snapped a three-game skid in which the offense was on hiatus. Last weekend in Arlington the same scene unfolded, with Keuchel looking every bit the part of a major leaguer while making his big-league debut against the reigning two-time American League champion Rangers. "He actually made the comment to me that he was surprised how comfortable he was, and it showed last week and it just carried over and showed today," Castro said. "It was a great job and he did exactly what he needed to do, and we were able to put up some support behind him." The run support was most certainly welcome the Astros posted a season-high nine extra-base hits behind Keuchel. But after limiting the Rangers, the major's top-ranked offense in average (.281), on-base percentage (.341) and slugging (.455), to one run on four hits and four walks with two strikeouts over five innings last Sunday, the fact that Keuchel pitched even more effectively against the Indians reverberated. Cleveland (37-33) entered Saturday ranked second in the majors in walk rate (9.5) yet Keuchel issued just one free pass, a leadoff walk to Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan in the top of the third inning. Out of all the things Keuchel (1-0, 1.29 ERA) did well, his ability to throw strikes from start to finish enabled him to succeed and save the bullpen. "There's no doubt it was vital to the success," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "They're a very patient team; it probably shows the deception of his pitches more than anything else. "How he was able to locate the fastball and with that changeup and breaking ball, the deception on those pitches, that was sure nice." Castro referenced the effectiveness of the sinking fastball Keuchel utilized to keep the Indians off-balanced. Whenever Keuchel ran into a spot of trouble, he buzzed the margins of home plate. The Indians felt compelled to chase pitches that were a little too enticing to take, with the results favorable to Keuchel and his manageable pitch count. By the close of the sixth Keuchel had tossed only 68 pitches. The Astros (29-42) had flipped a one-run deficit into a 5-1 lead by then, and with Keuchel cruising, the reality of his finishing what he started became distinct. He retired nine batters in succession after surrendering a leadoff home run to Asdrubal Cabrera in the fourth inning, and through eight innings Keuchel had faced just three batters over the minimum. "(Pitching coach Doug) Brocail asked me after the eighth inning if I was good and I said, 'Yeah,' so I figured I was going back out there for the ninth," Keuchel said. "I just tried to focus on getting outs and if I could get them as quick as possible then that just gives the offense more opportunity." The slew of extra-base hits two doubles apiece from Chris Johnson and Carlos Lee, plus doubles from Brian Bogusevic and Jed Lowrie, and homers from J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer and Jose Altuve proved gratuitous. Even as Keuchel pushed past the 100-pitch threshold he appeared in complete control. He stranded runners on the corners in the ninth and capped his outing allowing only six hits over 108 pitches. What was supposed to be a couple of spot starts with Bud Norris on the disabled list has morphed into something else. Keuchel has been too effective against two solid lineups to be discounted and haphazardly returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. What happens next will require consideration from the decision-makers. Keuchel has earned as much. As for Keuchel, he seems just fine with keeping cool and pitching well. "That's what you want guys to do. You want to make those decisions difficult," Mills said. "When a guy throws your first complete game of the year and throws two real good games, I think you've got to kind of wonder a little bit. We're going to think about some things and go from there." Said Keuchel: "I'm just trying to do my job here. If it's for two starts or for two years, it's whatever. I'm just going to take it day-by-day and try to get better." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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