Dallas Keuchel is a ground ball pitcher.
When he gets those ground balls, and those ground balls turn into hits, what's a guy to do?
It seems the Chicago White Sox' veteran lefty is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't at the moment. He's not pitching like he was a year ago, when his 0.99 ERA in the shortened 60-game season earned him a fifth-place finish in the American League Cy Young vote and even a finish in AL MVP voting. He's giving up homers at a career-high clip, and his numbers against left-handed batters are outrageously high compared to his career totals, leading him to say, "I feel like I'm on Mars" when talking about his fate vs. lefties earlier this season.
Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays, baseball's highest scoring team, things looked back to normal — everywhere except the score sheet.
Keuchel did the thing that's made him a Cy Young winner and the ace of a World Series winning staff, getting ground ball after ground ball. But the Rays hit 'em where the White Sox infielders weren't, turning six of those grounders into base hits.
"It's just kind of the way it's been going," Keuchel said, "so got to keep making pitches and trying to limit damage. It's tough, six of the nine hits were on the ground today. Just didn't really seem to find much luck, or bounce my way.
"Just felt like we were about one or two inches away from a couple of double plays or a couple of early outs, and that would've changed the whole complexion of the game."
The one that bounced off the third-base bag and went for an RBI double in the first inning was emblematic of what's troubled Keuchel of late: Even when he gets the result he wants, it's not the result he wants.
Despite that trend, he's managed to keep his team in the ballgame in most cases. Saturday, not so much, with the Rays making Keuchel pay for their good fortune. He allowed six runs on nine hits in five innings of work. The White Sox scored a bit to make it close late, but the Rays pulled away again, winning the second game of this series between division leaders by an 8-4 final.
"My pitch-making ability is still there," Keuchel said. "It's just bad luck here, ground ball there, and that's the way it's going. As frustrating as it is, got to keep plowing away and making as many pitches as I can."
For fans, it can sometimes be hard to separate what's supposed to happen from what does happen, and hearing that a pitcher is having a bout of bad luck matters little in this "what have you done for me lately?" world of Major League Baseball.
That's spurred plenty of social-media complaints and calls for Keuchel to be left out of the team's playoff rotation. The way the other four guys are pitching only amplifies those calls, as it will be impossible for the White Sox to play postseason baseball without throwing Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodón. Dylan Cease has given reason to believe he could turn in positive performances come October, too.
But Keuchel's not exactly some scrub here. He's got a World Series ring on his finger, the veteran of multiple deep playoff runs with the Houston Astros. He's the only Cy Young winner on the staff, for now, and he's got the knowhow and ability to keep things close even if he's not mowing down the opposition. There's a lot to like about the type of presence he could provide in big moments.
Of course, he's spent much of 2021 talking about his displeasure with how he performed in his lone playoff start last fall, when he gave up five runs (only three of them earned) in 3.1 innings against the Oakland Athletics.
Surely the White Sox are formulating plans for October that involve all five of their starting pitchers, in one way or another, not to mention Reynaldo López, who has looked like a new man while filling in for Rodón in recent weeks.
Even taking the social-media gripes into account, though, no one has seemed more bummed about Keuchel's results than Keuchel, who has sat in front of the Zoom camera and shaken his head in disbelief after many of his starts this season, upset he didn't limit damage more than he did or record more outs or pitch more innings.
So there's really no drawing board Keuchel believes he needs to go back to, no grand change that will unlock the same kind of results he turned in during his first season with the White Sox last year.
He could just use some better luck.
"I think anybody would say if you don't get the results consistently, it's a lot frustrating," Keuchel said. "There are times I feel like I'm doing my job better than the box score dictates.
"That's really what I chalk it up to. Can't really pinpoint one or two things, it's just a couple of bad-luck plays. Ball hits the bag, multiple starts. I haven't seen that ever. There's a lot of things I haven't seen in this game until this year.
"I'm sure we'll see some more things. Hopefully it's in the good-luck category of our team, and hopefully I can get on this train, as well."