The 2017 Astros will have one of the deepest lineups in baseball. The bullpen will be anchored by a fearsome trio of Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, and Ken Giles. As for the starting pitching... well, that’s the factor that almost everyone, even Jeff Bagwell, points to as the key for this team winning it all.
During the off-season, we waited to see if Luhnow and Co. would be willing to pay the steep (and in this writer’s opinion, too steep) price to acquire a top of the rotation (TOR) starting pitcher. I’ve never doubted the quality of our current starting rotation. The issue was that two of those starters, who just so happened to be the top two, ended 2016 on the disabled list.
If someone could guarantee that Keuchel and McCullers would be healthy for a full 2017 season, I would be just fine with our rotation. So for the entire off-season, I held my breath (you can imagine how blue my face got), hoping for some sign that Keuchel and McCullers would be healthy heading into 2017, and cringing anytime someone mentioned those dreaded initials TJ when talking about worst-case scenarios.
Now, a few weeks into Spring Training, both McCullers and Keuchel have made starts. While the results were good for both, we’re obviously more concerned about how the players feel at this point. To be honest, I don’t think I could have expected any better.
Everything we’ve heard from both Lance and Dallas indicates that they’re feeling great. Keuchel’s father even joined the radio broadcast in the booth for half an inning on Saturday and when asked how Dallas was feeling, he said that Dallas tells him this is the best his body has ever felt. Dallas has made similar comments in interviews, saying that he feels as strong as ever right now.
Furthermore, Dallas seems to have opened up more this Spring about how prevalent his injury was last year, saying that he battled shoulder soreness throughout all of 2016. Brian McTaggart provided the following quote in his article for MLB.com:
"I felt like last year, good gracious, it took me 45 minutes to warm up, so by the time the first pitch came out of my hand, I'm still in warm-up mode," Keuchel said. "So initially, the body warmed up, the shoulder was feeling good. I can immediately tell. Just getting to the bullpen, it was free and easy. It was enjoyable instead of worrying about if my arm was going to give out or how to get this pitch to home plate."
McCullers and Keuchel have each only made one start, so it’s probably best to monitor future workouts and starts cautiously before getting too excited. Yet the optimist in me is very encouraged by the news we’ve heard so far this Spring.
If Batman and the Beard are healthy enough to anchor the Astros rotation throughout the season, 2017 is going to be a fun ride.