Dallas Keuchel’s Braves debut wasn’t perfect but showed potential

WASHINGTON — Dallas Keuchel’s first major league appearance since October might not have been the roaring comeback he was hoping for, but as Atlanta Braves’ manager Brian Snitker said after a 4-3 loss to the Washington Nationals, "He’s gotta start somewhere."

For the 31-year-old left-hander, that "somewhere" was 99 pitches in five innings before leaving for reliever Touki Toussaint. His complete stat line — 64 strikes, eight hits, four runs (three earned), one home run and two hit batters —wasn't an entirely accurate representation of his performance considering infield errors helped the Nationals get on base. But the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner did show a little rust, peaking at 89.1 mph and averaging 87.6 on the 44 sinkers he threw.

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After becoming an unintentional spokesman for the flaws of free agency during his nearly eight-month lay-off, Keucehl is "just happy to be on board" with a group he said "could be just like the division winners and the World Series winners." He added that he felt like he was in midseason form and entered the game feeling better than expected.

Before the first pitch, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said adding a player "of (Keucehl’s) caliber at this time of the year when we’re playing well" would be "a jolt" for the team going forward. Bringing on an experienced player like Keucehl could also help younger players like Mike Soroka and Max Fried "take it to the next level," Freeman added.

Nationals catcher Brian McCann also gave insight into his former teammate's potential: "I think the more starts he gets under his belt, the more into the season he gets, he’s going to be a little more crisp."

Though Keucehl gave up a 3-0 lead in his final two innings, he pitched his way out of some sticky situations and didn’t allow a run in his first three. He also picked up a walk in the fifth after grounding out during his first at-bat in the third.

"He gave us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask out of any starting pitcher," Snitker said.

Keucehl signed a one-year, $13 million contract with the Braves on June 7. Before getting called back up to the majors, he made one start each for Class A Rome and Class AA Mississippi. He threw seven scoreless innings in his first start and gave up three runs in seven innings during the second.

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