Posted on June 8, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Houston Astros Dallas Keuchel

Image via espn.com

For the second time this season, the Houston Astros have placed ace Dallas Keuchel on the 10-day DL. The Astros placed Keuchel on the DL Thursday with neck discomfort. The lefty also spent time on the DL last month with a neck injury. To replace their best starting pitcher on the active roster, the Astros have called up their top prospect, right-handed pitcher Francis Martes.

Keuchel was scheduled to start for the Astros on Wednesday night. However, he was a late scratch because of what the team called an undisclosed illness. Of course, with Keuchel going on the DL one day later, the timing is suspicious.

The Astros have sent Keuchel back to Houston to be examined by doctors. With this being his second trip to the DL this year for neck-related issues, the Astros have to concerned about Keuchel. There is no timetable for his return at this time, but he’ll miss at least one start. This season, Keuchel is 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA. Save for the injuries, he’s the top candidate to take home his second Cy Young Award in three years.

Houston is replacing Keuchel on the roster with Martes, the team’s top prospect. The Astros acquired Martes from the Marlins at the trade deadline in 2014. He has since blossomed into one of the elite pitching prospects in baseball. Over the winter, rumors connected the Astros to White Sox ace Jose Quintana in trade talks. The White Sox reportedly insisted that Martes be part of a package for Quintana, something the Astros were unwilling to do.

Originally, it was believed that Martes was being called up to pitch out of the bullpen. With Keuchel a late scratch on Wednesday, the Astros needed eight innings out of their relievers. Martes, a starter throughout his minor league career, was presumed to provide an extra arm for Houston’s tired bullpen. The Astros don’t have an off day until next Thursday.

However, now that Keuchel is going on the DL, it’s possible the Astros will plug Martes into their starting rotation, which is suddenly inundated with injuries. Collin McHugh has been on the DL all season and is still not at the point of being ready to pitch in minor league rehab games. Charlie Morton and Joe Musgrove joined him on the DL towards the end of May. Morton was shut down with a lat injury, while Musgrove complained of shoulder discomfort. Keuchel now gives the Astros four starters on the DL.

Houston’s rotation now consists of Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock, Mike Fiers, and rookie Davie Paulino. Martes could be a candidate for the final spot in the rotation. Of course, he could also pitch out of the bullpen, as the Astros have a few days to find a replacement for Keuchel’s spot. In eight starts at triple-A this year, Martes has thrown just 32.1 innings and posted an ERA of 5.28, so the Astros may prefer to have him pitch out of the bullpen for now.

It’s too soon to jump to conclusions about Keuchel’s long-term health. However, two DL stints for neck problems in quick succession is not a good sign. In the short term, the injury is no big deal. The Astros currently hold a 12-game lead atop the AL West. But Keuchel would obviously be key to the team’s postseason chances. If Keuchel’s neck injury turns out to be something serious, it may put pressure on the Astros to trade for a frontline starter. Of course, they may need to part with Martes to make that happen.

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