October 5, 2022

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Keuchel struggles in quest for rotation spot, 2015 form

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CHICAGO — The White Sox ended April in a funk, finishing 8-12 after losing 10 of their last 12 games. May was a chance to forget about that strange April and turn the page to a new month, a new beginning.

“Just turn the page and start fresh tomorrow,” Tim Anderson said after Saturday’s victory.

That new beginning started too late on Sunday as the offense was quiet until the ninth and Dallas Keuchel struggled en route to a 6-5 defeat against the Angels at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Keuchel’s performance almost went overlooked when the White Sox rallied in the ninth inning, scoring five runs. The team had six hits in the inning and the potential winning run was on second base when Gavin Sheets came to bat with the bases loaded. He grounded out, but the near comeback finally showed the offense’s potential as a unit.

“That’s the team that we are,” said Luis Robert through interpreter Billy Russo. “We were [almost] able to come back in the ninth and it was good for us. That’s the team from now on that everybody’s going to see, day in and day out.”

On the mound, Keuchel faced danger from the start. A day after Vince Velasquez retired both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani twice with two strikeouts, the southpaw couldn’t find the same success.

“I was really trying to establish what Vinnie had started yesterday,” said Keuchel. “I didn’t.”

In the first inning, Trout sent Keuchel’s cutter over the fence for a 429-foot home run, and then Keuchel walked Ohtani.

After the early home run, Keuchel could not get comfortable. He allowed a baserunner in every inning except the fifth, and struggled to control the strike zone for the second straight outing. The 2015 Cy Young winner has now walked a combined 10 batters over his last two starts.

“Take away some of those walks and it’s a totally different ballgame,” said Keuchel. “That’s a very disappointing start to things.”

His final line on Sunday was five innings, six hits, four runs and five walks with one strikeout.

“I still feel good,” the Sox left hander said. “That’s the main thing and I’m upbeat with how things are progressing. Obviously, I want to win every start — that’s not likely — but at the same time, I gotta give six, seven innings instead of five.”

Keuchel now sits at 1-3 on the season with an 8.40 ERA. Among the other team starters, he has given up the most hits (24), earned runs (14) and walks (11).

The clock is ticking for Keuchel to make an impact, with reinforcements on the way for the South Siders.

With Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech pitching well to begin the year, their roles as starters are solidified, especially from Kopech, who is in the hybrid starter position and should continue to thrive in it.

Lance Lynn, who is slowly coming back from a right knee tendon tear, is expected to return sometime at the end of May. Lynn’s 2.69 ERA from last season boosted the White Sox starters, and he will be back at the top of the rotation by month’s end.

The last spot, however, is for the taking.

Velasquez has delivered some solid starts this season, including an impressive 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball on April 30. If he continues to pitch like that, he could lock up that fifth rotation spot.

Then there’s Keuchel, who has struggled with command as of late. The way his season started isn’t ideal and could hurt his stock going forward.

“I’m still forcing things early,” Keuchel said. “If I can clean that up, I’ll be a lot better moving forward.”

Johnny Cueto, who signed with the White Sox over the offseason, is also an option. Cueto is coming off an impressive outing in Triple-A Charlotte as he continues to build up his stamina. In his most recent start there on April 28, he went four innings, giving up just one hit with six strikeouts.

The White Sox will surely have a decision to make as their starters get healthy. But Sunday was a missed opportunity for Keuchel to show that he still has his vintage ways.

“It’s frustrating,” Keuchel said of his season. “But I know it’s there and it’s coming. It’s just a matter of hanging on and controlling what I can control.”

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