Keller dominant in West Virginia debut

Pirates' No. 14 prospect calms nerves, strikes out 10 over five frames

Mitch Keller posted a 5.49 ERA with 25 strikeouts to 16 walks over six starts for Bristol last year. (Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

By Alex Kraft / MiLB.com | April 12, 2016 2:46 AM

Once Mitch Keller's nerves subsided, the opposing hitters didn't stand a chance.

Pittsburgh's No. 14 prospect allowed one hit and struck out a career-high 10 batters over five scoreless innings Monday, but his Class A West Virginia squad ultimately dropped a 2-0 decision to Greenville at Fluor Field at the West End.

The right-hander came into his South Atlantic League debut nervous, but it took all of five pitches for him to start feeling comfortable.

"Once I got the first hitter out, I was pretty locked in ready to go," Keller said. "Just to get that first out out of the way, it calms you down a little bit."

The 20-year-old devised a game plan with Power catcher Christian Kelley based around his fastball and executed it nearly to perfection, retiring 15 of the 16 batters he faced. During one stretch from the third inning through the fifth, he struck out seven straight hitters.

"Really all I needed today was the fastball," Keller said. "I think I only threw a couple changeups in there, a few curveballs here and there, but the main thing was just attack with the fastball."

Unfortunately for Keller, Greenville starter Daniel Gonzalez (1-0) -- also making his debut on the circuit -- matched him with each scoreless frame. Watching from his own dugout, Keller knew he would have to continue to elevate his game.

"He was holding our hitters down," the Iowa native said. "I had -- not extra motivation, because I'm always trying to throw up zeros -- but I had to keep my team in the game at that point."

With his pitch count rising, however, Keller was replaced to begin the sixth by Tanner Anderson (0-1). He exited having thrown 68 pitches, 49 for strikes.

Since being taken by the Pirates in the second round of the 2014 Draft, Keller hasn't had an extended chance to show off his skills. The Xavier (Iowa) High School product appeared in only nine professional games the year he was drafted, and he was limited to six appearances with Rookie-level Bristol last season due to a right forearm strain.

The prospect of a healthy season and a full slate of starts have Keller feeling optimistic.

"Last year was kind of disappointing that I got an injury and got shut down and wasn't really able to get in a good rhythm and show what I had," he said. "I'm really excited for this year, just to be able to go out and be able to play a full season."

Gonzalez (1-0) helped the Drive notch their first shutout of 2016 by holding the Power to two hits and a walk while fanning three over six innings. Kuehl McEachern struck out two in a perfect ninth to earn his first save.

Anderson (0-1) took the loss after giving up two runs on a hit and a pair of walks in the sixth.

No. 10 Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis drove in the game's only runs.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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