HOUSTON -- In multiple interviews after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award, left-hander Dallas Keuchel repeatedly gave credit to pitching coach Brent Strom and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson for helping him become one of the top pitchers in the game.
Strom was on a flight when Keuchel went on MLB Network on Wednesday and publicly thanked him and Bjornson, who Strom refers to as his "right-hand guy." When Strom landed and turned on his phone, it was full of messages from those who had heard Keuchel's praise for the pitching coach.
"As soon as the wheels touched down, I turned on my phone and it was blowing up," Strom said. "There were a lot of people emailing or text messaging. It was pretty exciting. I was hoping [Keuchel winning] would happen, and I'm glad it did."
Keuchel became the third player in franchise history to win the Cy Young Award, joining Mike Scott (1986) and Roger Clemens (2004). He went 20-8 with three complete games and a 2.48 ERA in 33 starts. He led all AL pitchers in wins, WAR (7.2), innings (232), WHIP (1.017) and ranked second in ERA and opponents' batting average (.217).
When accepting the award, Keuchel credited his parents, specifically his father, Dennis, for teaching him the game, as well as Strom and Bjornson for helping him refine it.
"We go back and forth all the time about what they will like to do and what they think I should do, and it's one of the better relationships I've had in a very long time with pitching coach and player," Keuchel said.
Strom's first year during his stint as pitching coach of the Astros was in 2014, when Keuchel barely made the rotation out of Spring Training. A seventh-round Draft pick out of Arkansas in 2009, Keuchel went a combined 9-18 with a 5.20 ERA in 47 games (38 starts) in his first two seasons in the big leagues before hooking up with Strom. He's 32-17 with a 2.69 ERA in 62 games since.
"The guy who told me he was going to be really good was [general manager] Jeff Luhnow," Strom said. "I saw a nice left-hander. He was battling for the fifth spot [in 2014] and there were other people ahead of him, and Jeff said, 'You have to keep an eye on this guy; he's going to be very good,' and Jeff was dead right. Dallas made some changes."
Strom said he and Bjornson suggested Keuchel use the lower half of his body a little bit more. That allowed him to become more consistent in his release point and have better overall command of his pitches. Once he started winning, the confidence grew.
"Dallas is a guy who utilizes what he has as best he can," Strom said. "There's no great out pitch. There's no great curveball or overpowering fastball or anything like that."
After getting roughed up for nine runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings Sept. 16 against the Rangers in Arlington, Keuchel studied video and came back two weeks later and held them to one earned run in seven innings.
"That was pretty impressive right there, after getting your brains beat in, to be able to do that," Strom said. "That little two-game span was pretty striking."
Strom, a veteran pitching coach, had never tutored a Cy Young Award winner before this year.
"The award goes to Dallas because he's the one who did it, but this goes from the front office all the way down through," he said. "It's a team effort. He's a very humble young man. He can be a pain in the [rear] to deal with at times. He can get [grumpy]. The greatest thing an athlete can have is a competitive nature and a growth mindset, and that's what he is. He's ultra-competitive and he's wanting to keep getting better and learn and not [remain] stuck in his old ways."