HOUSTON -- Even more than strikeouts, ground balls can be a pitcher's best friend.
The Astros' pitching staff has coaxed them out of hitters often this season, compiling the best ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio in the American League at 1.67-to-1 entering Monday.
That mark is good for fifth in the Majors, and three Houston starters are among the top 10 in the AL and keeping things low.
Jarred Cosart (2.11, seventh), Scott Feldman (2.38, sixth) and Dallas Keuchel (3.57, first) are the stalwarts in getting grounders, something manager Bo Porter said he envisioned out of Spring Training.
"That's one of the things we factored in building our staff is that we knew we had a lot of ground-ball guys," Porter said. "I'm pleased with their locating and ability to let our defense play."
Speaking of defense, Porter said the Astros are such a shift-heavy team because of the pitchers' affinity for groundouts.
"That's why we put such an emphasis on positioning and making sure we're maximizing our ability specifically to defend grounders," Porter said. "We'd be throwing guys in the outfield more if there were a bunch of balls in the air."
Keuchel has been the surprise of the Houston staff this season, recovering from a rocky back half of 2013 to go 3-2 with a 3.68 ERA through seven starts.
He's done it with a prodigious ground-ball ratio and improved strikeout numbers. Keuchel said he's noticed a combination of extra movement, increased velocity and more pitching savvy has contributed to the ground raid this season.
"Just from few of those early games, i can tell my two-seam has a little bit more late life than it usually does," Keuchel said. "… Might have one or two more ticks on my fastball. I haven't really deviated from anything. I'm throwing the same pitches I did last year, I just think more are strikes and more are placed low in the zone."
As for whether he considers himself a ground-ball pitcher, the lefty had no hesitation.
"Most certainly," Keuchel said. "In college, that was my bread and butter with the two-seamer and the changeup. If I'm not getting ground balls, I'm probably getting hit."
Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.