JUNE 17: The Braves plan for left-hander Dallas Keuchel to make his season debut Friday against the division-rival Nationals, according to manager Brian Snitker (via David O’Brien of The Athletic and Mark Bowman of MLB.com).
Keuchel has pitched two minor league tuneup games since he ended his protracted trip to free agency with a one-year, $13MM agreement on June 7. The first, in which Keuchel threw seven shutout, one-hit innings at the Single-A level, went swimmingly. Keuchel added another seven frames in a Double-A start Saturday, though he allowed 11 hits and three earned runs. However, the Braves are “encouraged” by the fact that Keuchel threw 101 pitches in that outing, Bowman writes.
Although the reigning NL East champion Braves lead their division by 2 1/2 games this year, they’ve gotten to this point with middling starting pitching. In need of a complement to superb rookie Mike Soroka, the club made a notable in-season commitment to the 31-year-old Keuchel, who often excelled in Houston over the previous half-decade and has a 2015 AL Cy Young Award on his resume.
Keuchel is now about to join a Braves rotation which, aside from Soroka, isn’t the most trustworthy group. Julio Teheran has enjoyed a major bounce-back year in terms of bottom-line results, but as always, his peripherals aren’t as encouraging as his ERA. Meantime, Max Fried has cooled off since a great start, Mike Foltynewicz has been surprisingly poor after what looked like a breakout 2018, and Kevin Gausman (now injured), Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson haven’t offered solutions over a combined 22 starts.
Fortunately for Atlanta, Keuchel’s not the only reinforcement on the way. Injured center fielder Ender Inciarte – out since May 15 with a lumbar strain – has been cleared for baseball activities and could embark on a rehab assignment next week, per Bowman. However, as Bowman notes, Inciarte will not reclaim the starting job in center field when he returns to the majors.
The Braves can’t sit rookie standout left fielder Austin Riley, who will continue to line up alongside Inciarte’s center field replacement, Ronald Acuna Jr., and right fielder Nick Markakis. The defensively adept Inciarte had center on lockdown in Atlanta from 2016 until landing on the IL this year, but his injury and subpar start over the first month and a half of this season opened the door for the hot-hitting Riley.