Keller puts Marauders on brink of FSL title

Pirates No. 5 prospect blanks Yankees over career-high eight innings

Mitch Keller is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA over 13 1/3 innings in two playoff starts for Bradenton. (Marty Morrow/A Plus Pro Photo)

By Kirsten Karbach / Special to MLB.com | September 11, 2016 9:49 PM

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Mitch Keller flashed an upper-90's fastball while breezing through the Tampa lineup on Sunday, pitching a career-high eight innings as Bradenton rolled to a 9-0 whitewash and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Florida State League Championship Series.

The Pirates' fifth-ranked prospect gave up four hits and a pair of walks while striking out one as the Marauders moved within one win of the first title in team history. 

Keller (1-0) faced two batters over the minimum on the way to his second postseason victory. He relied heavily on the heater and worked efficiently against an aggressive Yankees lineup.

"After we scored four in the first inning, you have that big lead, so you're just pitching to contact," the 2014 second-round pick said. "Just trying to get those guys back in the dugout to score some more runs, and that's what they did."

Keller's fastball reached 99 mph and induced quick outs, as he threw only 81 pitches in his third start since moving up from Class A West Virginia. He flipped in a few first-pitch curveballs late to keep Tampa off-balance but stayed mainly with the hard stuff.

"I don't think that he needed to go to his off-speed much," Marauders manager Michael Ryan said. "He didn't need to mix until I think the sixth or seventh innings, so it was primarily fastball for him. When you're running up the radar gun, there was no need for him to mix, so he stayed with what was giving him success."

The Marauders provided plenty of support for Keller, scoring four times in the first against Tampa starter Yefrey Ramirez (0-1). Red-hot Connor Joe launched a two-run homer off the boardwalk in left-center to break the game open in the third before Chase Simpson's sacrifice fly in the fourth made it 7-0.

Jerrick Suiter collected three of Bradenton's 13 hits, with Joe, Simpson and Jordan Luplow driving in three runs apiece. Joe has flipped on the power switch in the playoffs. After totaling five homers in 107 regular-season games, the 24-year-old third baseman has three in five postseason contests while batting .350 (7-for-20) with five extra-base hits and seven RBIs.

"I think really just that desire for this team and the energy we have going here is electric and it's contagious," Joe said. "I think just the heightened awareness, heightened focus of the playoffs, has helped us all."

Luplow's two-run shot in the ninth, his second in as many days, gave the Marauders nine homers in five playoff games.

Connor Spencer was the only Yankee to reach base more than once, going 2-for-2 with a walk.

With Tampa's ballpark undergoing renovations, Game 4 is Monday in Bradenton. J.T. Brubaker will pitch for the Marauders against left-hander Josh Rogers.

Kirsten Karbach is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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