Astros' Keuchel Learns To Be Himself

HOUSTONThings could not have gone any smoother for lefthander Dallas Keuchel since he realized who he is as a pitcher—and perhaps more importantly, who he is not.

His first ride through Triple-A last season was a nightmare, a 1-1, 7.50 record in seven starts with nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (15) in 35 innings. But Keuchel has made the most of a fresh start in the Oklahaoma City rotation out of spring training. Through eight starts this season, the 24-year-old was 4-2, 2.09 with 28 strikeouts and 10 walks in 56 innings. The biggest difference has been accepting his role as a finesse lefty—his fastball sits in the mid-80s—rather than trying to overdo things.

"When I came up here last year, I was out of my element a little bit and tried to do too much," said Keuchel, a polished seventh-round pick in 2009 off an Arkansas team that reached the College World Series. "Going to the (Arizona) Fall League helped me out a lot, facing all that talent. It made me think about refining my command, and coming into this year, I was more comfortable with my stuff and not trying to outdo myself and trying to pitch my game."

His game involves the two-seamer as his foundation, which he throws to both sides of the plate. He complements it with a cutter and a changeup.

Never one to blow anybody away, Keuchel tries never to be straight either."My movement is a lot better than velocity, so I'm not really worried about velocity anymore," he said. (However, he does throw in a handy disclaimer: "It's not like I throw Jamie Moyer 80.")

He's in an organization that has some upward mobility. With Kyle Weiland likely out most of the year, the Astros have been very liberal in giving various starters from Triple-A chances to make it in the majors with no commitment to one made yet. As Keuchel watches and waits for his chance, there's no hostility, just a learning experience.

"I'm not worried about anything now except doing my job and every fifth day trying to go get a quality start," Keuchel said. "I saw (Jordan) Lyles go up and was really happy for him - Aneury (Rodriguez) too. It's fun whenever one of your teammates gets a piece of big league experience, and when they come back I can pick their brain."

Space Shots

• The Astros expected high Class A Lancaster shortstiop Jio Mier to miss several weeks after injuring his hamstring running the bases in early May. The 21-year-old was batting .309/.414/.447 in his second season in the Cal League. He had narrowed his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 19-to-16 this season after totaling 112-66 K-BB last season between low Class A Lexington and Lancaster.

• Lancaster outfielder George Springer, the 11th overall pick last June out of Connecticut, hit four home runs in four consecutive at-bats spanning two games of a May 11 doubleheader. Springer doubled his home run total with those swings and after a slow start to his first full professional season was hitting .313/.354/.571 in 147 at-bats.