KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Dallas Keuchel is proud to have won the Cy Young Award. Houston’s ace won’t be satisfied until he leads the Astros to a championship.
“I’m hungry just because the individual awards came but there was no ultimate team award,” Keuchel said. “And I want multiple championships because I think in your career that’s what a lot of people judge you on is how many rings you have.”
After a surprising playoff run last season, the Astros aren’t going to sneak up on anyone in 2016. They return most of the team that went 86-76 to reach the postseason for the first time since 2005.
That success, Keuchel said, was important in the Astros re-establishing themselves as a team to contend with after a dismal stretch that included three straight 100-loss seasons from 2011-13.
“A lot of guys wanted respect last year and that’s what we were aiming toward, and now that we’ve got that, I think there’s going to be more teams coming into our place or us going there and they’re going to know who we are now,” he said. “And that’s what we wanted from the start.”
With the foundation set and a plethora of young talent, Keuchel believes the Astros are poised to win a title.
“If nothing happens I’ve got three years left here and we should win at least one with the talent we have and with the talent we’ll get in the next two years after this year,” he said. “We should definitely be right there in the thick of things.”
The 28-year-old Keuchel returns to lead the team after a year where he led the American league with a season-high 20 wins and had a 2.48 ERA in 33 starts to become the first Astro to win a Cy Young since Roger Clemens won it in the National League in 2004.
Keuchel, who pitched three complete games last season, picked up his second straight Gold Glove Award for his work in 2015. That success won’t change his personal goals.
“I just want to stay healthy and try to repeat,” he said. “It’s a never-ending process and I try to reinvent myself every year.”
Still, manager A.J. Hinch said he nonetheless tries to impress upon Keuchel the importance of not relying too much on what happened in 2015.
“I don’t want him to try to mimic last season,” Hinch said. “Trying to act like last season or trying to repeat things is just not how you compete and he knows that. He’s got areas to improve and he’s got some things that he wants to work on to make himself even better.”
Things have changed a lot for Keuchel, who was named Houston’s opening day starter on Feb. 20 - nearly a month earlier than last year. Hinch has seen an increased maturity and development in his ace since he took over the team before last season - and he is still challenging him to do more.
“The mental component he can get a little bit sharper and I know he wants to anchor the staff,” Hinch said. “At this time last year he didn’t know he was pitching opening day and he ends up getting the Cy Young Award. Now he knows he’s pitching opening day, a lot of attention’s on him. He’s just got to make sure that his preparation’s buttoned up.”
The Astros are bringing Keuchel along a bit slower than their other starters this spring after he pitched a MLB-leading 232 innings and 14 more in the playoffs in 2015. He won’t play until Houston’s second week of spring training games. Despite the later start, Keuchel still expects to appear in five games this spring, which he believes will get him exactly where he wants to be for when Houston opens the season against the New York Yankees on April 4.
Keuchel isn’t worried about the amount of innings he piled up last season, 46 more than his previous career high.
“I’m thankful I got through (almost) 250 innings,” he said, “and I’d like to go even more this year just because that means we get deeper into the playoffs.”
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