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Mitch Keller Worth Every Penny in Complete Game Against Angels

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Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — During spring training, the Pittsburgh Pirates backed up the truck to show a strong level of faith in starting pitcher Mitch Keller.

Following his first-career All-Star campaign, the Pirates signed the right-hander to a five-year contract extension worth $77 million.

It’s a level of spending the Pirates rarely go to, only once exceeding the total value of Keller’s deal in franchise history. Teammate Bryan Reynolds signed an eight-year, $106.75 extension at the beginning of last season.

Though Keller was rewarded for a strong 2023 campaign, his first season under his new contract was off to a bit of a rocky start.

Entering play on Monday night, Keller was 2-3 with a 5.18 ERA through his first seven starts of the season. Though Keller likely pitched better than those numbers would indicate, the 28-year-old was getting results more commonly seen during the first few years of his career as opposed to the All-Star version of himself in 2023.

In Monday’s start against the Los Angeles Angels at PNC Park, Keller silenced any critics and showed that he still has ace-level stuff despite an up-and-down start to his season.

Keller threw his second career complete-game for the Pirates in their 4-1 victory over the Angels.

“I felt pretty good coming into it,” Keller said on his outing. “Pregame bullpen felt good. Like I said, when you get the first 1-2-3 inning, you start feeling pretty good about how your stuff is playing. You get ground balls and you just keep rolling. It just feeds into your confidence.”

Keller’s first-career complete game came almost exactly one year ago when he blanked the Colorado Rockies across nine innings on May 8.

Outside of a solo home run hit by Zach Neto in the sixth inning on Monday, Keller was masterful and held the Angels in check. He needed 109 pitches to go the full nine innings with 75 of those going for strikes.

“He had a couple of innings, in the sixth he threw nine pitches. He got quick outs. He was in the zone,” manager Derek Shelton said. “I think that’s the biggest thing … He was in attack mode and by doing that, he kind of put them back on defense a little bit.”

The Pirates’ starter received more than enough run support when Edward Olivares belted a grand slam in the third inning for an early 4-0 lead.

The lineup has struggled for the majority of the season and did so for the rest of the game on Monday, but Olivares’ big swing gave Keller a welcomed lift.

“It’s a huge boost,” Keller said. “We’ve been struggling obviously. Just to break it open there, I think we had base runners on a lot of the innings, and for Olivares to just crank one out there, it lifted everyone in the dugout. It was a huge energy boost that we needed.”

In the dazzling start, Keller seemed to save his best for last. He struck out two batters in the ninth inning and seemed to have found some extra velocity in the final at-bat of the game against Willie Calhoun.

“Empty the tank,” Keller said on his strategy in the game’s final frame. “They’re giving me an opportunity. Just give it everything that I’ve got. That’s basically it. Just get strike one and keep going.”

If Keller’s latest performance is a sign of things to come, that hefty investment looks like money well spent.

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