Everybody wants Mitch Keller. With injuries to Chris Archer (thumb) and Jameson Taillon (strained elbow tendon), the Pirates need to bolster their starting rotation, and many are calling for Keller to be the guy to step up and to make an impact.
Widely considered the Pirates' top pitching prospect, Keller is 3-0 at Triple-A Indianapolis this season, posting a 3.48 ERA and a 1.548 WHIP. His progress is encouraging to Pirates brass. He did, however, struggle mightily throughout spring training, allowing 10 hits and 10 runs in four starts.
"Mitch Keller is making great strides," Neal Huntington was telling media. "His last two starts are really reasons for us to continue to be optimistic about Mitch. [He] made a minor adjustment and just locked that in. At some point, he’ll be available for us."
That point is not now. Not yet. With Archer and Taillon down, the team moved Steven Brault and Nick Kingham into the rotation. They'll start today and Wednesday, respectively, against the Rangers. To relieve some pressure on those two, Huntington says the team will rely more heavily on the likes of Francisco Liriano, Michael Feliz, Tyler Lyons and Dovydas Neverauskas to come in and put up quality innings.
"It may be a little bit non-traditional, how we cover it," Huntington said. "We’ll carry 13 pitchers for the majority of this time I would think, given that we’ve got 26 games in 27 days."
Is this non-traditional approach better than simply calling up Keller? It's not that the organization doesn't believe in him or see this as a viable option. It's that now is not a good time for Keller, given some recent, specific adjustments he's working on in Indy.
"He’s added a little bit of a slider/cutter-type pitch," Huntington said. "And he’s gaining some confidence in it and gaining some willingness to use it in some key situations. It’s another pitch that he can use for a strike. It’s another pitch he can use to get off the barrel and, a little bit like Jameson added his and Nick added his, it’s another weapon for these guys — especially the guys with the big curveball. The curveball is seen, even the good ones, are seen out of the hand early. So it’s another pitch that they can use, a velocity pitch that they can use to get off barrels."
So it's not that the Pirates don't want Keller in the rotation. They just want him to be fully equipped and ready when he's called up. While Huntington wouldn't call that move "inevitable," he did say their "hope is that he'll be ready to come up and help us win games."
For now, though, Keller will continue to polish his arsenal. While adding a tool at the Major League level isn't unheard of — Taillon himself did it — it's not for everyone, a point noted by Huntington.
"Jameson Taillon adding it at the Major League-level is a one-in-1,000," he said. "It’s not the way we typically want to do things, but he was up here and felt like he needed to add the pitch. He’s so smart and has such great aptitude that he was able to do it on the fly. We’ll let Mitch lock in some things in Triple-A before we start asking him to come up here."
Watch the full session with Huntington from PNC Park right here
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