By MoiseKapenda Bower, The Sports Xchange – UPI
HOUSTON — Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel is fiercely prideful, and after turning his modest prospect status into the 2015 American League Cy Young Award, relishes his role as staff ace.
However, when Houston acquired right-hander Justin Verlander on Aug. 31, Keuchel was forced to surrender his position fronting the rotation to the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner. That shift was confirmed when Verlander earned the nod for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, bumping Keuchel to Game 2 on Friday at Minute Maid Park.
Still, Keuchel, who expressed disappointment in the front office when the club failed to land an impact arm at the non-waiver deadline in late July, welcomed his new role with selflessness.
“We couldn’t have picked a better guy for Game 1,” Keuchel said of Verlander, who pitched Houston to an 8-2 win over Boston and a 1-0 series lead. “I pitched Game 3 in the Division Series in 2015, so (getting the nod for the opener against the Red Sox) was literally the last thing on my mind.
“I’m happy to pitch at home in front of this beautiful crowd.”
Keuchel (14-5, 2.90 ERA) labored to recover from midseason neck discomfort but found his stride down the stretch of the season, going 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA during his final three starts. In three career appearances (two starts) against the Red Sox, Keuchel is 0-1 with a 9.88 ERA.
Getting the start at Minute Maid Park is meaningful for Keuchel, who is 36-21 with a 2.94 ERA at home in his career. He finished 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA at Minute Maid Park in 2015, and in the aforementioned ALDS start against the Kansas City Royals, he allowed one run on five hits with seven strikeouts over seven innings in a 4-2 victory.
“It’s just an atmosphere, with the dome, and just with the orange and blue colors,” Keuchel said. “Orange is a very electric color, and it’s hard to miss, so when we have an orange-out or a lot of fans wearing orange, especially in Keuchel’s Corner, it’s a good feeling to have.
“And it just feels as close to home as it’s going to feel for me, and I’ve enjoyed it and it gives me that extra little boost each and every time. It really does.”
Left-hander Drew Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32 ERA) will start Game 2 for the Red Sox.
Pomeranz was the pitcher of record when Boston clinched the AL East on Sept. 30 against the Astros, allowing one run on three hits and two walks with three strikeouts over six innings in a 6-3 victory.
Pomeranz did not factor in the decision in a 2-1 win over the Astros on June 16 despite allowing just one run on four hits and three walks with four strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. He is 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA over 12 career games (seven starts) against Houston.
It will mark the third career postseason appearance and first start for Pomeranz, who worked out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in the 2016 ALDS against the Cleveland Indians.
“It’s great,” Pomeranz said. “I enjoy starting. I still think I’m a starter. I think my first postseason experience I was in a wild-card game (with the Oakland A’s in 2014), and I didn’t get to pitch, so all I wanted to do last year was pitch, and I got into the bullpen. So, this year I’m pretty excited.”