Surging Keyes homers twice for Suns

Nationals prospect has gone deep seven times in eight games

Six of Kevin Keyes' seven homers in eight games were solo shots. (Joy R. Absalon/

By John Parker / Special to | June 28, 2011 8:17 PM ET

After a slow start, Hagerstown outfielder Kevin Keyes has definitely found his power stroke in the last half of June.

Keyes went deep twice -- including a walk-off blast in the 14th inning -- on Tuesday night as the Class A Suns edged the visiting Lakewood BlueClaws, 4-3.

After homering once in his first 18 games of the season, the 22-year-old Texas product has seven longballs in his last eight contests.

"I've been doing a lot of work in the cage with our hitting coach, Marlon Anderson, and it's really started to pay off in the last week or so," Keyes said.

The Nationals' seventh-round pick in the 2010 Draft, Keyes hit .175 with three homers in 39 games with Class A Short-Season Vermont last year, then began the 2011 season in extended spring training before joining the Suns on May 20.

"It was really helpful to have a chance to work on my hitting in Florida," Keyes said. "I got off to a slow start here, but the things I've learned and the adjustments I've made are starting to work."

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Keyes was just 3-for-34 (.088) in his first 10 South Atlantic League games, but has hit .293 with seven homers, 15 RBIs and a .759 slugging percentage in the 16 games since.

The Suns fell behind early as the BlueClaws turned three singles and two stolen bases into two runs in the first inning. Keyes got Hagerstown on the board with a two-out solo shot in the second.

Keyes singled in the fifth, but the Suns were held scoreless until the ninth inning. Trailing 3-1, Michael Taylor hit his seventh homer of the season, a two-run shot to send the game into extra innings.

The two clubs' bullpens were dominant in extra frames -- no baserunner reached second from the 10th through the 13th -- until Lakewood's Tyler Knigge took over in the bottom of the 14th.

Leading off for the Suns, the right-handed Keyes smacked an outside fastball over the right-field wall for the walk-off win. Both of his longballs Tuesday went the other way.

"I never really hit much the other way in college, but I'm making adjustments in the pros," Keyes said. "I tried to stay short to the ball and I got good wood on it."

Despite his recent surge, Keyes is batting sixth in the Suns lineup. He says he's very comfortable there.

"We've got some really talented guys here, especially when [Bryce] Harper's in the lineup. I get to see good pitches when they're on base, so it's great."

Against the BlueClaws, Keyes was able to pick up the slack after the Suns' No. 2-5 hitters went a combined 0-for-21. Apart from Keyes' and Thompson's homers, first baseman Mills Rogers doubled and singled and leadoff man Sean Nichol went 1-for-5.

After Hagerstown starter Matthew Grace allowed three runs -- two earned -- on five hits in five innings, the Suns bullpen shut down Lakewood. Four relievers combined to allow just three hits over nine shutout frames. Ben Graham held the BlueClaws hitless in the 11th, 12th and 13th innings before Sam Brown (2-1) earned the victory with a no-hit 14th.

The BlueClaws outhit the Suns, 8-7, but just one of their hits -- a double by catcher Cameron Rupp -- went for extra bases. Third baseman Travis Mattair singled twice.

Lakewood starter Jesse Biddle fanned eight while allowing one run on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. Knigge fell to 1-3 after yielding the homer to Keyes.

John Parker is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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