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Maybe All Mitch Keller Needed Was a Flip of the Calendar

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Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Mitch Keller’s rocky start to the season seems as though it’s long behind him.

After his final start on the last day of May, Keller’s ERA sat at 5.18 and he had allowed four runs four times through his first seven starts.

Since the calendar flipped to May, Keller has looked like the pitcher that represented the Pittsburgh Pirates at the 2023 All-Star Game. In fact, he’s been even better.

Keller pitched 6.2 innings and allowed just one run against the Atlanta Braves in the Pirates’ 4-1 win on Saturday at PNC Park.

Keller entered his start against the Braves having faced them five other times in his career. Atlanta was a team that had Keller’s number, as is the case with many pitchers around the league. But on Saturday, it didn’t matter. The right-hander did more of what he had been doing all month.

With another win on his ledger, Keller has won all four of his starts in May and has a sparkling 1.30 ERA. He’s worked at least six innings in all four of those starts.

“I think just filling the zone up, attacking guys,” Keller said on what’s clicked. “Getting ahead and staying ahead. Using the full mix of my arsenal. I’ve got a lot of pitches, so the more I can use it, the more it keeps them off-balance. Just executing strikes and using it all.”

In addition to facing a really good Braves’ lineup, Keller had to deal with external factors.

The start of the game was delayed by nearly a half hour due to inclement weather. In the fifth inning, the game was again delayed for 30 minutes due to a rain shower on the North Shore.

Keller was unfazed. While Atlanta pulled started Reynaldo López once play resumed, Keller trotted out from the Pirates’ dugout to start the six. He pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning and again walked to the mound in the seventh.

With two outs, Keller hit Zack Short with a pitch which ended his evening, but he did everything the Pirates could have wished for given the circumstances.

“Yeah, you just have to stay locked in. Whatever it takes,” he said. “The hardest one is the mid-game delay. Before the game, that’s fine, whatever. You can still have your routine. Just I’ve never done that before. Just trying to stay hot. Going to warm up again is crazy, but it is what it is. You’ve got to find a way.”

The starting rotation has been a key strength for the Pirates for much of the season, but that’s especially true of late.

Over the last nine games since May 16, Pirates starters have posted a 2.41 ERA and have held opponents to a .205 batting average. Eight of those nine outings have been quality starts.

With Keller back to serving as the anchor for a relatively young rotation that features two promising rookies, manager Derek Shelton is quite pleased with the work his starting pitchers have given him.

“The best thing that you can have is internal competition,” Shelton said. “It’s not competing against each other, it’s competing with each other. I was really fortunate, I spent seven years in Tampa with some of the best staffs in baseball. That’s what those guys did. They competed not against each other, but with each other. Rooted for each other, were there and learned from each other. It’s fun to watch our group do that.”

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