Keuchel's motivation at 'all-time high' following sour 2021

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

CARLSBAD, Calif. — If the loud voices on White Sox Twitter had their druthers, Dallas Keuchel would be pitching somewhere else in 2022.

And if Rick Hahn's front office is serious about bringing Carlos Rodón back — or making any other kind of offseason upgrade to the Chicago White Sox' currently full starting rotation — moving the final guaranteed season of Keuchel's contract would be one way to do it.

But a disappointing second season on the South Side isn't doing anything to the veteran left-hander himself but providing a whole new kind of drive.

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"It's something that is at all-time high, the motivation is right now," Keuchel said Monday.

Keuchel wasn't talking like someone who could be on the move this winter, and he's usually a good bet to make blunt assessments. At the end of August, he was honest when saying that he'd need a good final month to even be a part of the White Sox' playoff rotation, that coming from the highest paid pitcher on the roster, someone with a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring on his resume.

He didn't have a good enough September, didn't have a good enough season, and he was left off the roster for the American League Division Series against his former club, the Houston Astros.


For a guy who spent 2021 talking about his disappointing playoff start against the Oakland Athletics in 2020 being a motivating factor, it's no shock that not even getting the chance to pitch in October this time around is stirring up stronger emotions.

"It hurt," Keuchel said. "It hurt the competitor in me to not be able to even remotely help out whatsoever, especially (against) a team I know so well in the Astros. I'm playing golf right now, so I'm taking my anger out that sport.

"I'm being serious (about the motivation level). I've already relayed that to a couple of guys, Rick Hahn and (assistant general manager) Jeremy Haber. That second half was not who I am, and I want to get back to who I am.

"I can talk about it, but I would really like it to be February or March and be able to come out and show everybody."

Keuchel turning that motivation into positive results would hardly be unprecedented. He's got a history of swinging between excellent seasons and less-than-ideal campaigns.

After winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, he posted a 4.55 ERA and gave up a then career-high 20 homers. The following year, he was back on the AL All-Star team and helped lead the Astros to a World Series win. His career-worst 5.28 ERA and 25 home runs allowed he finished with in 2021 came a year after he dropped jaws with a 1.99 ERA and a top-five Cy Young finish in his first season in a White Sox uniform.

If Keuchel's going to get things corrected in 2022, at least he knows where the problems lie, providing another one of those trademark blunt assessments when describing how things went for him in 2021.

"I was constantly battling myself to really find it," he said. "The constant uncompetitive pitches and getting myself into counts and deep pitches into games. ... When you don't have the velocity that other guys do but you have pinpoint control, you want to use the control to your advantage and you don't want guys to see four, five pitches in an at-bat. That was my biggest downfall this year, and that's why I'm itching to get back at it and get back into the groove that I know I can get into.

"I had a tough time going to the field, just based on the fact that some days were tougher to go in than others because I wasn't doing my job and I felt like a burden to some of those guys. I like to say that when the season's going on, you should have a smile on your face because you get to play in a big league stadium with a big league team.

"There's things that I've done in this game that I know that I'm still capable of doing, and I feel like I just didn't do my job very well in the second half."

Obviously, when watching a team with World Series aspirations, no one wants to see a squeaky wheel anywhere on the roster. Keuchel himself knew what he was, saying at the end of August, "I have been the weakest starter in the rotation."


But while it's easy to point to that weak link and demand a change, it's also not difficult to see Keuchel putting weak-link status behind him in 2022, given his history.

Whether that's enough to leave starting-pitching upgrades off Hahn's to-do list this winter remains to be seen.

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