Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel will miss at least two starts due to shoulder inflammation, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch both said today. Mark Berman of FOX 26 reported Luhnow’s comments (Twitter links), while MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart spoke with Hinch.
At present, it seems, the team doesn’t yet know the cause or full extent of the problem. As such, it’s not yet clear whether Keuchel will be able to return to help drive a push for the postseason, or appear if the team qualifies. Houston is all but buried in the AL West, but entered play today two games off of the Wild Card pace.
The 28-year-old Keuchel hasn’t been at his best thus far in 2016, as he carries a 4.55 ERA over 168 frames — well off of the sub-3.00 rate he maintained over the last two campaigns. Still, he has rated as a solid performer in the eyes of ERA estimators while maintaining quite useful peripherals (7.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 56.7% groundball rate). With his average fastball lagging by over a mile per hour as against recent campaigns, though, Keuchel has been hurt by the long ball (16.4% HR/FB rate) — the same issue that plagued him before his 2014 breakout.
Despite the struggles, Keuchel remains a largely irreplaceable piece for the ’Stros, with the absence of Lance McCullers Jr. further amplifying the problem. At this stage of the season, especially, the club needs every quality inning it can get.
Both Luhnow and Hinch acknowledged that the timing of the injury raises the possibility that Keuchel won’t return in 2016. “I don’t know the answer to that,” the GM said when asked if the southpaw would make it back. “I don’t think anybody really knows the answer to that.” As the skipper put it, “where we’re at on the calendar, it’s going to bring the obvious questions, but we just don’t know right now.”
Efforts to address the inflammation have not yet proven successful, Hinch explained. Keuchel first had pain in his last start, on August 27, and experienced discomfort when he tried to throw on Sunday. And attempts “to give him some gaps in time in giving him some rest periods … hasn’t solved it,” said Hinch. Ultimately, the manager noted, Keuchel will not be allowed to resume throwing “until he’s pain-free.”
The biggest question, perhaps, is whether a deeper structural problem is at play. That’s completely unknown at this point, though more information may become available once Keuchel undergoes a full examination by medical professionals.
Even if he can dodge a broader issue, the injury is likely to cost Keuchel some arbitration earnings. He won’t reach 200 innings for the third-straight season, only has nine wins on his record, and will be weighed down by the sub-par earned run average. Of course, he is working from a monster first-year arb award of $7.25MM, which obliterated prior high-points for first-year arb-eligible starters, so Keuchel will remain a major arbitration earner in his second season of eligibility.