INDIANAPOLIS - Mitch Keller earned Indianapolis' Pitcher of the Year Award, the International League's Most Valuable Pitcher honor and both mid and postseason IL All-Star honors. The 23-year-old met expectations as Pittsburgh's top prospect throughout the season, but he was at his best on June 7 in Toledo when he piled up a career-high 13 strikeouts over five dominant frames.
Keller made his major league debut with Pittsburgh on May 27 at Cincinnati and was optioned to Triple-A after the outing. Following six innings of two-run ball on June 2 vs. Gwinnett, Keller took his talents north to Toledo against the division rival Mud Hens. The start did not get off on the right foot.
In the first inning, Keller fell behind Danny Woodrow with a 2-0 count before surrendering a leadoff single. He then worked consecutive full counts against Daniel Pinero and Willi Castro but walked both to load the bases with no outs. When action began in Indy's bullpen, the switch suddenly flipped for the Tribe ace.
Keller caught Victor Reyes looking at a 1-2 curveball for strike three, blew away Dustin Peterson on a 2-2 high heater and did the same to Kody Eaves on a 1-2 pitch. Keller opened the second with a strikeout of Daz Cameron, utilizing his offspeed to put away the Detroit farmhand. He then put away Jake Rogers and Woodrow on letter-high fastballs, sandwiched around a four-pitch walk and stole base yielded to Jacob Robson.
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native continued his strikeout barrage in the third, fanning Pinero, Castro and Reyes on three different pitches - slider, curveball, fastball. Keller's command rolled into the fourth as he jumped ahead of Peterson, Eaves and Cameron. Peterson went down swinging for the eighth straight swinging punchout, while Eaves and Cameron were both caught looking at a third strike.
Rogers became the first Mud Hen to put the ball in play since Woodrow's leadoff single in the first, but he flied out routinely to right field. Keller's final strikeout came on a 3-2 curveball to Robson, and he capped the start with a Woodrow groundout to first.
The 13 strikeouts tied a Victory Field era (1996-present) road record, with Oliver Perez owning the other 13-K performance established on July 1, 2006 at Toledo. Keller's 13 punchouts were the most in a start by a Tribe hurler since Ian Snell whiffed 17 Mud Hens at Victory Field on June 28, 2009.
Keller's final line: 5ip, 1h, 0r, 0er, 3bb, 13k - 92 pitches/59 strikes, 1 groundout, 1 flyout
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