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Pirates Can’t Overcome Keller’s Early Woes in 7-2 Loss to Nationals

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Mitch Keller made his second start of the season for the Pirates on Friday night against the Nationals. While Keller again showed impressive velocity, it came with unimpressive command, and the Nationals took advantage. Unlike Thursday’s game, the Pirates weren’t able to overcome an early deficit, and Washington beat Pittsburgh 7-2 on Jackie Robinson Day.

Keller was only able to go 3.2 innings. He allowed seven hits, walked three, struck out four and was tagged for four earned runs. It was another disappointing start for the right-hander who will look to right the ship his next time out.

The Nationals took advantage of Keller’s poor command right out of the gate. Though only one ball was hit hard in the inning, the Nats recorded four hits, two of which were RBI singles — one from Nelson Cruz, one from Josh Bell. Cruz recorded another run-scoring single an inning later, putting the Nats on top 3-0.

It was a big night for Cruz, who recorded a sacrifice fly and another RBI. It was the second three-RBI game of the season for the 41-year-old. Not to be outdone, Bell also drove in three runs for Washington.

After Yoshi Tsustugo reached on a base hit, Ben Gamel and Andrew Knapp each drew walks. Hoy Park then dumped a ball into left field and Tsutsugo and Gamel came around to score on the play.

Knapp replaced Roberto Perez, who took a foul ball off his knee. He stayed in the game to finish the top of the second, but was pinch hit for with Knapp. Perez left the game with a left quad contusion.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, that was about it with the bats. They registered only five hits, only three of which came after the second inning. Ke’Bryan Hayes hit a double, the only extra-base hit on the night for the Bucs.

Miguel Yajure gave the Pirates three innings in relief, but didn’t have his best stuff. He allowed three hits, walked two, hit a batter and struck out one. He was tagged for three earned runs. To Yajure’s credit, he grinded through the outing and helped keep some arms fresh.

The Bucs and Nats are back in action Saturday with a 6:35 first pitch. Bryse Wilson (0-0, 6.75 ERA) gets the start for the Pirates and Josh Rogers (1-0, 1.69 ERA) will go for the Nationals.

Takeaways:

  • High Velo Needs Command: High velocity is nice, and Keller certainly had it on display again on Friday night. He routinely hit the upper-90s with his fastball, and even registered a 100 mph pitch. Even so, Keller left too many pitches over the heart of the plate, both his fastball and off-speed. Being able to pump the kind of velocity Keller did is nice, but it’s only one part of the equation. If you can’t spot it around the edges, the speed doesn’t matter all that much.
  • Fingers Crossed for No IL: Surely the Pirates are hoping that the left quad contusion for Perez will not land him on the injured list. Perez has been good on both sides of the plate, having come to Pittsburgh with a good reputation as a defender. He entered play hitting .294 with a 125 wRC+. If Perez did happen to land on the 10-day injured list, the Pirates would need to make room on the 40-man roster to add another backstop.
  • First Inning Funk: The Pirates have given up at least one first inning run in six out of their seven games to begin the year. In total, the Bucs have given up 11 runs in the first inning. Trying to overcome an early deficit nearly every game is a tough task, and something that Pirates will have to improve upon moving forward. Whether the fix comes from the starters themselves or if the Bucs employ the idea of using an opener, something will need to change.
  • 42: It’s always great to see Major League Baseball honor the great Jackie Robinson on this day every year. It was a nice addition this year to not only have all the players wear the number 42 as usual, but have it in the blue Brooklyn Dodgers style like when Robinson wore it.
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