PITTSBURGH — Many wondered how starting pitcher Mitch Keller would respond after going four and two-thirds giving up four earned runs against the Milwaukee Brewers in his last start. Fast forward to Sunday’s game against the Padres, Keller came out guns blazing, striking out two, one of which was Manny Machado on three pitches.
During the 2021 campaign, it seemed like every other start from Keller would be good or bad. People call it inconsistent; I call it consistently inconsistent. Flashes would be brought before our eyes, and then like the snap of a finger, it would go.
At least now, in 2022, we see things start to click for Keller consistently. You go onto his Baseball Savant page, and everything seems to be in the red (that’s a good thing). Unfortunately for Keller, bad luck and an inconsistent offensive output has put his win/loss record and ERA on the fritz.
There were many things to take away from this Keller start, but three things stood out that couldn’t go without mentioning.
Keller Loved the Fastball
Out of the 85 pitches thrown in the afternoon, Keller threw 53 fastballs (62% of the time). Keller lived on the edges and even utilized the top of the zone. The fastball was used so much it made me think if it was the game plan or just an in-game adjustment.
“I think it was a gameplan, but a little bit, hitter-dependent, said Shelton. “When you see that his stuff and his velocity is there, 98-100 is hard to hit, and when you get it to the top, it gets really hard to hit. So I think it was an adjustment throughout the game with how good his stuff was too.”
Keller Kept His Composure
Two moments signified Keller conquered his demons Sunday afternoon. The first moment was in the third inning. Austin Nola smacked a single at 92.8 mph, followed by a Trent Grisham 106.2 MPH single. Suddenly, Manny Machado singled in a two-out run, and Keller was on the ropes. Instead of falling flat, Keller bounced back and got Jurickson Profar to ground out, and the damage was limited.
The next moment came against Trent Grisham in the fifth inning. Keller ultimately got Grisham to strike out, but it took 11 pitches with C.J. Abrams at first base threatening to steal.
“I think there were two things [Keller] showed me in that 11-pitch at-bat with Grisham,” said Shelton. “Number one, he had one of the fastest guys in the game at first, and he was able to maintain, and he maintained it off slide steps off 1-1 and 1-2. And Grisham had a really good at-bat, and he continued to execute pitches and didn’t get to the middle of the plate. I think there are two points to it, maturation-wise. Number one, controlling the running game like that, because any time he lifts, and I think he lifted twice, but he had mixed it up so well that they weren’t able to steal, and the fact that he continued to execute pitches and didn’t give in.”
Keller Threw a Ton of Strikes
Keller threw 85 pitches on the afternoon, and 56 were for strikes or 65.8%. During his six innings of work, Keller got in a minimal amount of 3 ball counts, evident with no walks on the day.
“I think he threw five pitches in the fourth,” said Shelton. “That’s one of the things I told him when he came out is that when you have, then all of a sudden your good stuff’s there and you get to certain spots of the order, you should go right into attack mode, and he did that today, and it allows him to go an extra inning. When you don’t walk people, it allows you to go longer in the game. So I think that was encouraging, and then the fact that his velocity maintained throughout the game was something that was very impressive.”
The date of Keller’s next start is unclear, but Pirates fans will want to keep their eyes glued to the T.V. and watch the 26-year-old Iowa native even more closely.