Despite loss, Keuchel moving in right direction

Despite loss, Keuchel moving in right direction

HOUSTON -- Though Dallas Keuchel was handed his first loss since August 2016 on Wednesday when the Astros were shut out by the Rays, 3-0, at Minute Maid Park, it was a step in the right direction as the struggling ace works toward his usual dominant form, manager A.J. Hinch said.

The Rays tagged Keuchel for seven hits and three earned runs in five innings, bringing his totals in his two starts (eight innings) since coming off the disabled list on July 28 to 13 hits and six earned runs.

"Just had runners on, just couldn't quite get the two-out out to finish the inning," Keuchel said. "That's what [happened] in Detroit and then today. So we'll clean it up. I need to be better. It all started with me, [I was] just kind of slow, kind of methodical, and guys just fed off of that. It wasn't a good game by any means. We'll look to make some adjustments from there."

Though Keuchel wasn't near his 2015 Cy Young Award-winning form, he built his pitch load from three innings and 79 pitches in Detroit on July 28 to five innings and 87 pitches vs. the Rays.

How would he assess his progress from his first post-DL start to his second?

"I feel better, so that's all that really matters," he replied. "Command-wise, it's still a little iffy. It needs to get a lot better. Threw some good breaking balls, but at the same time, there were quite a few waste pitches. I'm not trying to waste any pitches up there. I'm trying to make some early contact and get some early outs, but it seems like that's the opposite of what's going on right now."

The loss, Keuchel's first since Aug. 16, 2016, against the Cardinals at Minute Maid Park, snapped his career-long 11-game winning streak.

He allowed three runs or more in only one of his first 11 starts before going on the shelf.

With spotty command, he's allowed three in each of his two starts since returning to the rotation after missing 44 games.

"He wasn't sharp," Hinch said. "But just from start to start ... You look back at how much time he missed and then the rehab starts and then this being his second start -- it's a step in the right direction. His command wasn't sharp. He's normally a lot more efficient with his pitches, [with] a lot more well-executed pitches. His ball was going all over the place. I think when he missed, it was just barely missed.

"Again, a step in the right direction."

Christian Boutwell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.