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Keller shows some big-league jitters


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Pirates pitcher Mitch Keller watches as Reds shortstop Jose Iglesias rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam. – AP

CINCINNATI -- It was over in the first inning.

Mitch Keller made his debut for the Pirates in Game 2 of a Memorial Day doubleheader Monday night against the Reds at Great American Ball Park, and the runs followed. Lots and lots and lots of runs — six of which were Keller's doing in the Pirates' 8-1 loss.

Keller walked his first batter, Nick Senzel, then Jesse Winker singled up the gut. Keller followed those two with another walk, loading the bases with no outs. After a mound visit, Keller bounced back by striking out Derek Dietrich. 

Yasiel Puig singled to drive in the Reds' first run, and then ...

Welcome to The Show, young man. That's Jose Iglesias giving Keller some nightmare fuel. There'd be one more earned run for Keller after that, courtesy of a Senzel RBI single back atop the lineup, but the damage was done.

"I was a little amped up," Keller was saying after the game in the visitor's clubhouse. "That off-speed stuff wasn’t as crisp as it usually is and as it was in the following three innings.”

Iglesias thought the changeup was crisp and delicious, but the real takeaway here is what Keller says by the end of the quote. After struggling through one of the worst debut innings imaginable, Keller pitched three shutout innings, striking out five more along the way for seven total. He retired 10 of his last 11 batters, showing considerable improvement.

But for the love of all that's holy, don't ask Clint Hurdle if that Jekyll-and-Hyde performance is viewed as good or bad.

I learned that lesson the hard way:

Hurdle laid it all out but refused to make a final judgment call, preferring the "it is what it is" approach. One horrible inning, three good innings. Don't try to make more of it than that.

Still, I wanted a little more perspective, so I snagged Jameson Taillon for a quick chat about everything Keller did:

The overarching theme here seems clear: Don't overreact. Take Keller's terrible inning and take his shutout innings, and don't look to fuse them in any way. That was a 23-year-old pitcher making his first major-league start in a unique situation, and he learned lessons, both good and bad. What matters isn't what he did, it's what he will do from here.

And that remains to be seen, but it was clear when speaking with Keller after the game the uptick in production was a direct result of his rising confidence and comfort levels as the game progressed:


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