Staff ace Mitch Keller keyed the Pirates’ 2-0 shutout of the Nationals on Thursday, completing the eighth inning for the third time this season.
Keller struck out seven, allowing just two hits. Despite the excellent line, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the right-hander. Keller suffered a dip in velocity on his first two fastballs in the eighth: he hit 91 mph on the radar gun, significantly below his season average of 95.3 mph. Even though Keller sat at 92 pitches after the inning with a complete game shutout within reach, manager Derek Shelton said he didn’t want to overexert his tired All-Star.
“There were a couple things that came into play. It’s September,” Shelton said. “We didn’t score in the eighth, but he sat there for a long time… I mean, if he comes out and he’s [throwing] 95 there, then we’re having a different conversation.”
The Right Mix
Shelton said that Keller’s success stems from his fastball, which he threw effectively on both sides of the plate Thursday. That aided secondary pitches like his changeup and cutter.
Working through the Nationals’ order for the third time, Keller said he utilized different pitches to keep his stuff fresh. With six different pitches in his arsenal, he’s able to keep hitters off balance.
“Using the cutter to lefties was huge. Using the sinker and the four-seam to righties set up the sweeper. We’re able to mix things and keep a good attack plan,” Keller said. “Mixed in the curveball again today, used some changeup there too, which was really good to see. JD [catcher Jason Delay] did a great job picking spots to call them. They were really successful pitches.”
Keller said he gauged how the Nationals’ hitters reacted to his sinker and sweeper, using those pitches to find success late in the game.
“I think just throwing it and seeing the reactions we were getting. A lot of buckle here and there with some of the swings we were seeing,” Keller said. “We were going with it because it was working, so why not keep going with it?”
Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
Mitch Keller said he’s worked with the Pirates’ pitching and catching staff to develop his sequencing throughout the year.
“Just being able to grow and know where we’re at with what we’ve used in the games, what we’ve used in previous at-bats and just keep going with it,” Keller said. “Oscar, Raddley, JD and Endy, we’ve all kind of grown in that aspect, talking in the dugout about what we’ve used in the first couple of at-bats and what we can use later in the at-bats, too. It is tough seeing hitters three or four times, so you have to get creative and really execute.”
Shelton praised Keller’s ability to adapt and succeed even as he began to feel tired and his fastball velocity tailed off.
“In the eighth inning, the first two fastballs he threw the velo was down. He realized it, Jason realized it, they executed other pitches,” Shelton said. “That inning in and of itself shows me ‘okay, I have the idea of what I can do, how I can execute, where I can throw the ball to be able to get outs.'”