It is not as if Dallas Keuchel is unfamiliar with pitching on less than full rest. He said he has done it before in a big spot.
Well, "big" is a relative term.
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It happened in the 2009 College World Series, when he was at Arkansas. (North Carolina's Matt Harvey threw four wild pitches in one game in that CWS, but that's another story.)StoryA-Rod embraces underdog role; Keuchel isn't buying it
This is bigger: The Astros will send their lefthanded ace to the mound Tuesday night against the Yankees on three days' rest in the American League wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.
"It's just something that's going to need to be done," Keuchel said before Houston's workout Monday. "Whether or not I feel good when the game starts, it's going to be up to me to start the game and help the team win."
Keuchel's manager, A.J. Hinch, expressed no doubts about his star's ability to handle the unusual assignment.
"He's our ace," Hinch said. "He's our guy. So to hand him the ball with the season on the line -- pretty awesome."
Hinch said the focus on pitch counts and pitchers' rest in recent years has become "a bigger deal than maybe it really is. I think in this stage, adrenaline is going to carry them a long way . . . Physically, he's fine. It's just a little bit of a different routine."
Still, Hinch said: "If I had my choice, he would be on regular rest or extra rest. But with the situation that we're in, we needed to win on Friday. He needed to pitch."
Keuchel did pitch Friday against the Diamondbacks. He gave up two runs and six hits in six innings in a 21-5 victory that improved his record to 20-8. He finished the regular season with a 2.48 ERA.
The 27-year-old has been much tougher at home (15-0, 1.46) than on the road (5-8, 3.77). But he was 2-0 against the Yankees -- one win at home and one in the Bronx -- and didn't allow a run in 16 innings.
"At this point, the routine is there," Keuchel said. "I feel comfortable going in. I feel great. There's no end-of-the-season fatigue. So I'm excited. I don't think I'm going to need any type of adrenaline.
"If anything, it might be too much, so I might have to try to back it out."
Hinch isn't sweating it. But he knows the subject of rest will be part of the narrative regardless.
"If he pitches well, it will be a lot of guts and he came through on short rest," said Hinch, a former major-league catcher. "If he doesn't pitch well, then it's a change in routine and a lack of rest. So it's not ideal by any means."
And by the way, how did Keuchel do on short rest in the 2009 College World Series? Quite well, actually.
On June 13, he threw 81 pitches against Cal State-Fullerton, allowing four runs (three earned) in six innings.
Pitching in relief on three days' rest on June 17 against Virginia, he gave up three hits in four scoreless innings, throwing 66 pitches.
The Astros will need (and expect) even more than that Tuesday night.