August 15, 2022

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Struggling Keller needs to 'make his own opportunities'

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PITTSBURGH — The statistics on the surface are not good for Mitch Keller.

The Pirates right-hander gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings Friday night in an 8-2 loss to the Reds at PNC Park. The loss dropped Keller’s record to 0-5 this season and 7-22 for his four-year career. His ERA is 6.61 through six starts in 2022 and 6.12 over 46 lifetime MLB starts.

However, Keller has been showing much better in advanced metrics. Prior to Friday, his xERA was a fine 3.13. That is something Keller can hold on to after his worst outing of the season.

The Reds tagged him for five runs on five hits, and he didn’t complete five innings. Even worse, 11 of the 16 balls put in play against were hard-hit (with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph).

“Obviously, when you don’t produce, it’s frustrating,” Keller said. “Just not executing good pitches and getting beat by it. They’re a good hitting team. They’re hot right now. I can’t leave stuff over the middle of the plate. When you’re missing your spot, put it in their hot zones, they are going to take advantage of it.

“I mean, I felt really good, stuff-wise and just how the ball was coming out. Game’s over now. Nothing I can do about it. I’ve just got to keep moving forward. That’s the mentality.”

It was clear that the usually upbeat Pirates manager, Derek Shelton, was also frustrated with the results in Keller’s outing.

“You have to execute to get wins at this level,” Shelton said. “He’s had a couple of starts where he’s throwing the ball really well, and we haven’t gotten any runs for him. Pitching at this level is a grind, and you have to continue to grind because nobody’s giving in, and if you don’t execute, you’re not making your opportunities. I think he’s in a situation where he needs to make his own opportunities.”

After Ben Gamel led off the bottom of the first inning with a homer to put the Pirates in front, Keller gave up two runs in the third inning when Tyler Naquin and Kyle Farmer hit back-to-back doubles for one run and TJ Friedl added a sacrifice fly.

Ke’Bryan Hayes drew the Pirates even in the bottom of the third with an RBI double, but Keller surrendered a solo home run to Mike Moustakas in the top of the fourth. That put the Reds ahead, 3-2, and they never trailed after that.

Brandon Drury’s two-run double chased Keller in the fifth. Drury and Moustakas both homered in the seventh off Heath Hembree to break the game open. It was enough to test the confidence of even the most experienced pitcher.

However, the Pirates have been using the advanced metrics to help keep Keller on track. They will continue to do so.

“Where we really need to focus on, we can look at things and they can get inflated,” Shelton said. “But the way you can look at the game, you can look at the expected [statistics], you can look at underlying things. It’s really important for us to focus on those things.

“Other factors can come into play, whether it’s batting average, ERA, whatever — all those things just skewed good or bad. Right now, our focus is more on the expected lines and the underlying things. Over a longer course, we’ll have a better idea. But in a shorter sample, the expected is always the best place to look.”

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