Keller returns to form in season debut

Pirates No. 1 prospect tosses six two-hit innings for Curve

Mitch Keller set down 10 of the last 11 batters he faced in his first start of the year. (Terrance Williams/MiLB.com)

By Rob Terranova / MiLB.com | April 8, 2018 5:39 PM ET

If Sunday was a test for top Pirates prospect Mitch Keller, he passed with flying colors.

In his Double-A season debut, the 2014 second-round pick surrendered two hits while striking out eight over six innings in Altoona's 4-0 victory over Akron at PNG Field.


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"I knew [Akron] was going to have eight lefties in the lineup today so it was going to be a big test for me," the right-hander said. "I knew they were going to be attacking my fastball, so it was going to be a big day to use my changeup. I needed to keep them off balance, and my changeup worked really well today so that helped me to execute that plan.

"We mixed in some curveballs too as a good put-away pitch. I used everything. I felt great out there."

Keller gave up a single to RubberDucks leadoff hitter Sam Haggerty to start the game, but then sat down the next six hitters he faced before allowing his only other hit of the game -- a base hit by Daniel Salters in the third inning.

Baseball's No. 15 overall prospect went on to retire 10 of the last 11 batters he faced, but was mindful of the two walks he surrendered.

"I just fell behind early and need to do a better job of getting back into those at-bats," Keller said. "There was no damage done today, but those could come back to haunt me later on in the season. I need to not allow those free passes."

Tate Scioneaux and Geoff Hartlieb combined to give up one hit in relief of the Iowa native to complete the shutout.

The Curve gave Keller all the run support he needed when Pablo Reyes doubled in Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh's No. 6 prospect, and fourth-ranked Ke'Bryan Hayes -- in the second.

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In the fifth, Pirates No. 18 prospect Will Craig turned around the first pitch he saw for a two-run homer to cap the scoring.

Keller ended last season with Altoona, amassing a 2-2 record and a 3.12 ERA over 34 2/3 innings in six games. He struck out 45 and walked 11.

"It's a really good place to play. It's really good competition and I like it here," said Keller. "I'm hoping not to be here long, but it's a good place to play. We have a really good team this year, so it's going to be a lot of fun.

"My focus right now is just to hone in on my command with everything. I need to use my fastball on each side of the plate and be able to throw all my pitches for strikes. I need to get better and be able to use everything I have for a put-away pitch."

Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobTnova24. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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