PITTSBURGH — Only two and a half weeks after his ERA ballooned to 4.39 on Aug. 8, Mitch Keller has turned a corner and has started to look like the first-half version of himself.
In Friday night’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs, Keller dazzled by throwing eight-shutout innings, giving him his third consecutive quality start.
The right-hander masterfully navigated the Cubs’ lineup through his eight innings of work and allowed only four hits. Keller walked one and struck out six batters.
He was able to hold an aggressive team in check, and Cubs manager David Ross walked away impressed.
“Our offense has been good at attacking the plan and he was throwing strikes. The goal is to get strikes, put good swings on them and hit the ball hard. But he was just really good,” Ross said. “Sometimes we got off our A-swings but his stuff was moving all over the place and you’ve got to tip your hat to him. Nights like this you can lay your head down on the pillow knowing that we didn’t beat ourselves, they beat us.”
It’s been a stellar run for Keller in his last three outings after a brutal string of starts that stretched back even before the All-Star break.
At least for the time, the 27-year-old has put his rough patch behind him and has looked like the pitcher who earned his first-career All-Star selection.
“I would say that’s the best he’s pitched since mid-May,” manager Derek Shelton said. “He was in control, the pitch count was very manageable. He did a good job and executed all of his pitches. I think that was the thing. The fastball was good today but the cutter was very good, so overall, yeah, I think that’s the best he’s been since mid-May.”
It’s another clear sign of the development and maturation of Keller.
Before his career turnaround during the middle of last season, to say Keller had his struggles would be an understatement.
Often times, Keller would look timid on the mound, almost like a deer in the headlights. A couple of bad starts, or even a bad inning for that matter, would snowball and things would quickly turn south.
This year, the now five-year major league veteran has taken his punches. Unlike in his early years, he’s punched back.
“Yeah, and I think that goes back to what we talked about earlier in the year, the maturation of Mitch Keller,” said Shelton. “Pitching in the big leagues is hard when you’re facing lineups, and you’re going to go through some peaks and valleys, but I think what we’ve seen is his ability to grow and make adjustments, and the awareness of making adjustments is what’s happened, and it’s fun to watch.”
Keller’s toughness and resiliency was on display in the eighth inning at PNC Park on Friday.
Cubs third baseman Nick Madrigal hit a line drive up the middle, and the ball hit Keller flush in the lower-right leg. After a brief hobble near the mound, Keller fell to the ground.
After talking to catcher Jason Delay, he threw a single warmup pitch and gave the sign that he was good to go. Not that he had much say in the matter, to be fair.
“I was just kind of just sitting there and (Delay) came out and he goes, ‘Get up, let’s go, we’re finishing this,’ said Keller. “I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right, let’s go.’ I just wanted one pitch to feel it out and then we were ready to rock.”
Keller retired the next two batters he faced, including fielding another hard-hit comebacker at him for the final out of his terrific outing.
Toughness? Check. Resiliency? Check. This doesn’t look like the Mitch Keller of old.