JUPITER, Fla. -- With nine scoreless innings spread over three appearances, Dallas Keuchel had authored an attention-grabbing opener to his spring. The Astros left-hander, looking to secure a spot in the team's starting rotation, went into Tuesday's start against the Marlins trying to keep the zeroes flowing.
Before the game, manager Bo Porter called Keuchel's Grapefruit League performance "outstanding," and his advice for the 26-year-old was, "Just continue doing what he's done all spring."
Instead, the Marlins blitzed Keuchel for seven runs on 11 hits over his first two innings, highlighted by Giancarlo Stanton's titanic three-run blast off the roof of the building that sits beyond the left-field wall at Roger Dean Stadium.
"Baseball's a funny sport," Keuchel said. "It's one of those things where you can't get too high, can't get too low. You've got to stay even-keeled. You've got five days to rebound and work on some stuff and come out a little bit better."
Keuchel completed his four innings having thrown 76 pitches, with no walks and one strikeout. If this had been a regular-season game, he would have matched a career high with seven earned runs allowed and set a new one with 13 hits allowed, although two of those came on bunts.
On the other hand, it was just one start -- in Spring Training. If Keuchel was most upset about one thing, it was simply not making an adjustment fast enough.
Never one to succeed with dominant stuff, Keuchel felt his fastball velocity dip on Tuesday. He lost command and separation from his changeup, which came out flat. His sinker didn't display its usual late life.
"Any time you see that, you don't really get too many good results," Keuchel said. "I think the first two innings, it kind of showed."
Then came the silver lining. In the third and fourth innings, Keuchel leaned more on his curveball and slider, and Porter saw him begin to work at a brisker pace. Even if the stat line looked a bit lopsided, Keuchel made it through the fourth and wound up near his target pitch count.
"A guy gives up runs early, and then he's able to salvage his day and stay in there and chew up a couple of those innings, that holds big value, especially as you move forward throughout the course of the year," Porter said. "You don't want to be going to your bullpen in the second inning. So it was good to see him respond and give us two solid innings and kind of battle back."
After a rough day, Keuchel won't carry a sparkling ERA into his next outing. But then again, it's never been about one game for the former seventh-round pick.
"His stuff doesn't blow you away, but if you get to know Dallas over time, he grows on you," general manager Jeff Luhnow said recently.
During a trying 2013 for Astros pitchers, Keuchel tied for the team lead in innings, with 153 2/3, while starting 22 of his 31 games. In his first full big league season, he went 6-10 with a 5.15 ERA, although he performed better as a starter than out of the bullpen.
The Astros have a plethora of talented young arms coming through their system and brought in veterans like Scott Feldman and Jerome Williams this offseason to help stabilize the staff. But Keuchel figures to remain in the mix, despite a start he'd probably like to forget.
"He was a good pitcher for us last year and the year before," Luhnow said. "He's showed some inconsistencies for us two years ago and a little last year, but he's continuing to develop, and I think he's got a pretty bright future as a starter."