This Keuchel’s Korner coven at Minute Maid Park, at least on Monday, is a pale imitation of the real thing — the raucous nature of the King’s Court whenever Felix Hernandez takes the mound at Safeco Field.
But Dallas Keuchel himself? That’s another matter.
The Houston ace put a higher gloss on his Cy Young credentials by pitching seven dominating innings in an 8-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners. And it was typical Keuchel stuff: low key, no flash and thoroughly impressive.
An iron fist in a velvet glove.
“He makes his pitches and puts the ball where he wants,” second baseman Robinson Cano said. “Everything moves. And he doesn’t make mistakes.”
Keuchel improved to 16-6 and lowered his ERA to 2.24 by holding the Mariners to one run and six hits in seven innings. He struck out eight, walked one and escaped his only jam without seeming to break a sweat.
That jam occurred in a decisive fourth inning.
It was 1-1 when the Mariners loaded the bases with no outs by sandwiching singles by Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano around a walk to Nelson Cruz.
The Mariners settled for squat.
Keuchel turned Franklin Gutierrez’s soft hopper into a pitcher-home-first double play, and then struck out Mark Trumbo.
“That’s tough,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It takes a lot out of you, particularly against a guy like Keuchel, who is very stingy.”
McClendon’s quote from last year, when he said Keuchel had “average stuff,” always gets a lot of play when the Mariners play the Astros. This time was no different.
“I’ve been misquoted on Keuchel a lot,” McClendon insisted. “Listen, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he knows how to pitch. He uses his arsenal very well. He’s in and out, up and down. He changes speeds.
“He’s pretty good.”
And when Keuchel escaped that jam in the fourth, the game turned.
Jed Lowrie snapped an 0 for 28 streak with a one-out homer in the bottom of the inning. He sliced a drive to right that had just enough carry to clear the right-field wall.
Hank Conger then rocked a two-out drive to left that had more than enough carry. The Astros led 3-1. Conger entered the game batting .149 against left-handed pitchers.
Houston pushed its lead to 5-1 in the fifth when Carlos Correa crushed a 1-1 fastball for a booming two-run homer to left.
All of that came against Mariners lefty Vidal Nuno, who is now winless in 20 consecutive starts over two seasons with three clubs. He fell to 0-2 with the Mariners after allowing five runs and seven hits in six innings.
“Just giving up those home runs killed me,” Nuno said. “I was leaving my ball up. Not finding my fastball. My command was off a little bit.”
The Astros turned the game into a rout by scoring three time in the seventh against Rob Rasmussen, whose ERA now stands at 12.34 even after pitching a one-two-three eighth.
Will Harris and Oliver Perez closed out Keuchel’s victory, although Perez yielded Trumbo’s second homer of the game.
Houston nicked Nuno for one run in the first inning on a walk, a single and an Evan Gattis sacrifice fly. The Mariners pulled even in the second on Trumbo’s two-out homer.
It was Trumbo’s third career homer against Keuchel in 13 at-bats. Even so, Trumbo contends he has no secrets.
“Each at-bat is a grind,” he said. “I was fortunate. I got a pitch I could work with in a situation where I was going to be aggressive. That time, it paid off.”
Trumbo’s homer was also notable in that it was the first yielded by Keuchel at Minute Maid in more than a year. The last was by Texas’ Adrian Beltre on Aug. 10, 2014.
In between, Keuchel made 17 home starts without yielding a homer in a homer-friendly park. He did it without appearing to dazzle except in his consistency. Maybe that’s why his “Korner” is pretty tame.
“It’s the movement,” Trumbo said. “Everything is going down. Usually where you attack it is not where it’s going to end up. He’s got a nice slider, and he’s got a really good change-up, too.
“You’ve got to stay really disciplined. He’s not going to groove you a good strike. Or at least it seems that way.”
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