After a long layoff, Dallas Keuchel's Braves debut was a very mixed bag

Yahoo Sports Contributor
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Dallas Keuchel could have been better in his <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/atlanta/" data-ylk="slk:Braves">Braves</a> debut. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Dallas Keuchel could have been better in his Braves debut. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Dallas Keuchel’s extended layoff from MLB competition finally came to an end on Friday, and his performance in his Atlanta Braves debut left plenty to be desired.

However, it will take a lot more than one start before we know whether or not the southpaw’s long free agent holdout was worth it.

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Dallas Keuchel looks shaky in Braves debut

Facing the Washington Nationals on the road to begin his 2019 season after signing a one-year, $13 million contract with Atlanta, Keuchel opened his start with three straight scoreless innings, including his first Braves strikeout.

Things went downhill from there. The Nationals rallied in the fourth inning with an RBI triple from center fielder Victor Robles, then catcher Yan Gomes took Keuchel deep to tie the game 3-3.

Keuchel guaranteed he wouldn’t finish the game with a win when he yielded one more run in the fifth inning on an Anthony Rendon single. His final line: 5 innings, 8 hits, 4 runs (3 earned), 2 hit-by-pitches and 3 strikeouts in a 4-3 Braves loss.

The underlying numbers weren’t much better, as Keuchel yielded six balls in play that Statcast measured at more than 100 mph, and five more greater than 90 mph. A pitcher that depends on grounders as much as Keuchel can’t allow that kind of contact.

Don’t hit the panic button on Keuchel just yet

Sure, Keuchel’s numbers were bad. He at least has some reasons to believe those numbers aren’t representative of what he brings to the Braves.

For starters, the Nationals — for all their struggles this season — have been pretty good at hitting the ball lately. The team entered Friday ranking fifth in the league in wOBA over the last 30 days, which lines up pretty well with when the team got healthy again.

The bigger reason is that Keuchel was pitching in his first MLB game since Oct. 16, 2018 in the ALCS, a span of 248 days. With no spring training and just two minor league starts. Statcast measured his average sinker at only 87.6 mph on Friday, well down from his 89.1 average last season.

Sure, if Keuchel’s velocity stays down and his ERA stays up over his next few starts, it might be time for Braves fans and Keuchel’s agent to begin worrying. For now, it’s just one start.

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