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Dallas Keuchel could be back to Cy Young form

It’s a four-start sample, but Houston Astros starter Dallas Keuchel looks capable of duplicating his Cy Young form of two seasons ago.

Keuchel threw another gem with his win over the Angels and his starts continue to fit a winning pattern.

Keuchel is keeping the ball down, getting ground balls at a high rate and watching those get converted into outs.

Last season, Keuchel threw 56 percent of his pitches to the lower-third of the strike zone or below. This season, the lowest rate in his four starts is 65 percent (it was 66 percent on Wednesday).

The result of this is that when he needs a ground ball, he gets a ground ball. His 70 percent ground-ball rate ranks second in the majors. He leads the majors with 44 outs on ground balls, including six double plays.

And keeping the ball down makes it harder to get hit out of the park. Keuchel has allowed two home runs in four starts after allowing 20 in 26 starts last season.

Last season, bad innings tended to snowball on Keuchel (opponents hit .297 with men on base against him), but he has been able to limit damage in 2017. Opponents are 3-for-32 with eight strikeouts with men on base against him this season. That kind of success likely won't last, but it's closer to what Keuchel was a couple of years ago than what he was last season. The Angels were 2-for-13 with six strikeouts on Wednesday.

Keuchel has also gotten back to using his changeup more, which gives him a fourth pitch to pair with his fastball, slider and cutter. Opposing hitters are 3-for-22 against the changeup this season. He has gotten at least four outs with the changeup in each of his four starts this season. He totaled seven such starts in 2016.

What does history show?

Keuchel has begun this season with four straight starts in which he went at least seven innings and allowed one run or fewer.

Pitchers who start out that hot tend to be able to maintain it for a full season. Keuchel is the seventh to have that good of a run to begin a season within the past 25 seasons.

Of the previous six, five of them finished in the top seven in their league in ERA, most recently Matt Harvey in 2013. The last Astros pitcher to do it was Roger Clemens, who led the National League with a 1.87 ERA in 2005, a year the Astros went to the World Series.