Earlier this season, Brad Keller felt the twinge of disappointment that accompanies a reassignment to a lower level. He learned on Saturday night, though, that with every valley comes a climb back toward the top.
The D-backs prospect carried a no-hitter into the fifth and allowed one hit over six innings in his Northwest League debut on Saturday night, striking out eight as Short-Season Hillsboro edged Eugene, 1-0.
In his first appearance above Rookie-level ball, Keller (1-0) breezed through the Emeralds. He issued a leadoff walk to Trae Santos in the second but did not give up a hit until Joseph Epperson's two-out single in the fifth.
"I went out there and pitched off my fastball," the 2013 eighth-round pick said. "My defense behind me was really good and I just pitched to get outs. I didn't try to do anything too overpowering, just tried to get the most amount of outs on the least amount of pitches."
His lack of familiarity with Eugene's lineup proved no problem, thanks to an experienced influence behind the plate.
"I just trusted my catcher, Elvin Soto," Keller said. "He's caught many games against this team, so I figured he knew what he was doing. I figured I could just keep the ball low and let the defense work."
Keller started his season with Rookie-level Missoula, but after posting a 1-4 record and 6.95 ERA in eight games, he was sent to the Arizona League.
"I went down there and just worked on some things to try to get better," he said. "Things started working, things started clicking. I started pitching well, down in the zone. I had good command on my fastball."
In Arizona, Keller went 4-0 with a 2.30 ERA. Now he's set to make a September impact with the playoff-bound Hops and hopes to carry his strong finish into a productive offseason.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "For the organization to trust you enough to go into a winning team who's about to go into the playoffs, it's a great feeling. It's an awesome thing.
"It's a good boost going into [instructional league], into the end of the year. I was down when I got demoted, but having a good confidence-boost going into next season, you've got something to build on. I like the way I'm pitching right now."
Hillsboro scored the game's only run in the fourth. Steve Nyisztor singled with one out, stole second and raced home on Grant Heyman's two-out hit.
The Emeralds put the first two batters on in the ninth, but Hops closer Dustin Loggins induced a pivotal line-drive double play en route to his fourth save.
Eugene starter Travis Radke (2-3) took the loss after yielding one run on two hits with seven strikeouts and a walk in four innings.