When Dallas Keuchel won the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with the Houston Astros, the former Arkansas Razorback gave much of the credit to his former pitching coach, Dave Jorn.
“Well, those three years were the best three years of my life,” Keuchel said. “That’s something nobody can ever take away from me. Even though it was ’09 I was drafted and ’15 I won the Cy Young, a six, seven-year difference, some of the things that I learned playing in the SEC and through Coach (Dave) Van Horn and Coach Jorn will stay with me throughout my professional career.”
A product of Bishop Kelley High School in Tulsa, the bearded lefty admits that when he arrived in Fayetteville in 2006 and for the first time met Jorn, who is retiring this summer, he was skeptical.
“He’s one of those guys were you might be a little iffy coming in at first and thinking this guy is really hard on you, but really he’s not,” Keuchel said. “He cares so much about you and that’s what I’ve enjoyed most. Now I can pop jokes with him and he can ask me about professional life. It’s just fun.”
But looking back now, he knows Jorn’s tough love was exactly what he needed as a freshman.
“Coming in as a highly-touted prospect out of high school, you think your stuff don’t stink,” Keuchel said. “He’ll let you know [it does] because he’ll tell it like it is.”
Along with former Arkansas roommate Drew Smyly, who currently pitches for the Tampa Bay Rays, he is one of several big-league pitchers who Jorn helped reach the show, and Keuchel will forever be indebted to Jorn for the sage advice he’s provided over the years.
However, he is a bit surprised to hear Jorn is retiring after such a long, successful career.
“It’s kind of the end of an era there,” Keuchel said. “He was a fixture in college baseball for so many years and impacted so many young men’s lives, including myself. A lot of great pitchers have come through there and have grown because of him and his teaching. But I wish him all the best and he’ll forever be a fixture in my development and in baseball in general.”
Current Astros manager AJ Hinch is in his second season of Keuchel leading his starting rotation. Hinch didn’t know Keuchel as a Razorback, but every day for the past year-plus, Hinch has witnessed Jorn’s influence on Keuchel firsthand and knows the roots of Keuchel’s success were planted back at UA.
“Well, Dallas talks a lot about his time at Arkansas, so I know it’s very important to him,” Hinch said. “It’s certainly the age where you learn the most foundational things. You have a lot of good people that pour that foundation. A lot of times, the college coach is at the forefront of that. He’s very proud of his time there, he always reflects back about it. I hear about he and Drew Smyly, and all the boys that were teammates together there, so it must have been a great environment.”
One reason Keuchel feels Jorn has been so successful with young pitchers is because of his approach, one where he is not afraid to let his pitchers fail and welcomes input from his hurlers, which hasn’t always been the case during his nearly eight seasons in professional baseball.
But not only did Jorn teach him plenty about various aspects of pitching like mechanics, but he also gave lots of invaluable off-field advice.
“He also taught you how to be a man, grow into your own, not just be another product of the system,” Keuchel said. “There’s been a lot of good prospects that have gone there and done their job because of him, but there’s also been not so highly-talented prospects that have grown and become great professional players because of him as well. I think that’s one of the main things I’ll always remember, is coming in there as an adolescent, a teen, and then coming out of there as a man.”
Winning the Cy Young Award was only one dream Keuchel realized last season. Last fall, the ex-Hog also got his first taste of playoff baseball as the Astros beat the New York Yankees in the AL Wild-Card round before losing in the AL Division Series to the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals.
And like everyone who has experienced postseason baseball, he admits there’s nothing quite like it.
“It was everything that you would expect in a playoff atmosphere-electric, fans were just on you, crowds were crazy,” Keuchel said. “You never take any pitch for granted. I don’t do that during the regular season as well, but the playoffs the game hinges on every pitch and it’s one of the most fun, one of the most nerve-racking experiences that you can ever imagine. The taste you get [of that environment] and the empty feeling that I had at the end was something that will propel me for the rest of my career.”