Keuchel 'flawless' in seven shutout frames

Keuchel 'flawless' in seven shutout frames

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Astros ace Dallas Keuchel appears to be set for his 2016 regular-season debut.

Keuchel, the reigning American League Cy Young winner, fired seven scoreless innings and allowed just two hits and no walks in his final Grapefruit League start in Wednesday's 8-4 loss to the Phillies at Bright House Field.

The lefty, who will start for the Astros in Monday's season opener in New York, needed only 78 pitches and made it look effortless at times. In 17 scoreless innings this spring, he allowed seven hits, two walks and struck out 16 batters.

"Physically, I felt great today," he said. "That's what it really boils down to. I wanted to get up or down six or seven times or 100 pitches. So, I guess the up and down came first. I felt just as strong in the seventh as I did the first, maybe a little bit stronger. That's a good sign heading into the first real start of the season."

Justice: Keuchel has quickly ascended to elite level

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Keuchel was "flawless," even if he was still working on mechanics.

"You know, he's a perfectionist that wants to execute every pitch, and when he doesn't, he's pretty hard on himself," he said. "Small, little things help him gain a touch more consistency."

As the team prepared to head to Houston on Wednesday night after breaking camp, Keuchel said the next few days will see him prepare as he would for a normal start, though he admitted there might be a few nerves when he gets the ball at Yankee Stadium.

Keuchel on final spring start

"This is where the fun starts," he said. "The end of spring, it's nice. You get yourself ready, but at the same time it gets kind of long and boring because none of these games or stats count. The fun begins on April 4, and that's what we're looking for."

Opening Day will be returning to the scene of the crime for Keuchel. Yankee Stadium is where Keuchel threw six scoreless innings against the Yankees to eliminate them from the playoffs in last year's AL Wild Card Game in the pinnacle game of his career.

"It's going to be a great stage to pitch on," Keuchel said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.