NEW YORK — For Dallas Keuchel, pitching on three days' rest for the Astros in the American League wild-card game is one more chance to prove a season's worth of doubters wrong.
"I play with a chip on my shoulder," Keuchel said Monday at Yankee Stadium. "I think a lot of the guys do in there as well. And we'll always carry that."
To advance to the Division Series against the Royals in a best-of-five matchup that begins Thursday night in Kanas City, the Yankees will have to figure out how to beat the AL's only 20-game winner in tonight's winner-take-all playoff after going scoreless against him this season.
Keuchel might have trouble walking the streets of Manhattan these days with his distinctive bushy beard, but he has been elusive on the mound in a season that has made him a Cy Young Award candidate.
And first-year manager A.J. Hinch, who pressed all the right buttons in guiding the surprising Astros to their first postseason in 10 years, is confident his 27-year-old ace will handle the short rest without a problem.
"I think his preparation is fine. Physically he's fine. It's just a little bit of a different routine," Hinch said. "It probably garners more attention than it needs to. But at the end of the day, I think if he pitches well it will be a lot of guts and he came through on short rest. If he doesn't pitch well, then it's a change in routine and a lack of rest."
Keuchel sees the questions about his ability to start without regular rest as just one more reason for Houston to defy expectations. The young ballclub, with a rising star in rookie shortstop Carlos Correa, is two years removed from a 111-loss season. But the Astros surprised almost everyone by racing to a big lead in the AL West only to fade in September before rallying and earning the second wild card on the final day of the schedule.
"We proved people wrong continuously throughout the season and we're going to try to continue to do that," Keuchel said.
The storied Yankees were also a bit of a surprise. Not much was expected from an aging roster with pitching questions. But led by the resurgent Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (who is injured), New York sat atop the AL East late into the summer before slumping.
Keuchel will be facing a New York lineup that has limped into the postseason, losing six of seven games.
In better times for the Yankees, Keuchel shut them out with a six-hitter in Houston on June 25. He repeated that impressive performance in the Bronx, pitching seven three-hit innings Aug. 25.
"He's a guy who keeps the ball down in the zone," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You can't chase on him."
Jason Castro, who has caught Keuchel throughout his development into this year's AL All-Star Game starter, credits a slider the left-hander can spot well as one of the keys to his success.
"He's come a long way. He's made some great improvements over the last few years," Castro said. "His slider has developed into a plus pitch."
POSTSEASON NOTES: Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina will try to play in the NL Division Series while wearing a splint to protect his injured left thumb. The All-Star met with a hand specialist on Monday. … Eric Cooper will be the plate umpire for the AL wild-card game and Jeff Nelson will call balls and strikes at the NL game on Wednesday.