I asked the highly regarded pitching prospect about the importance of having three major-league starts with the Pirates and if it gives him a better idea of what works at the highest level of baseball.
“That’s huge,” Keller said. “I think I have a better understanding now of what works up here and what doesn’t. I have a lot better idea this time."
As expected, Keller was optioned by the Pirates to Class AAA Indianapolis when Trevor Williams was activated from the injured list to start Wednesday night against the Tigers at PNC Park.
Keller has gone 0-1 with a 10.50 ERA and 2.25 WHIP during two stints with the Pirates. Conversely, he is 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 11 starts with Indianapolis.
The 23-year-old said the most valuable lesson he has learned is to be less reliant on his fastball. In his brief major-league exposure, he has thrown 63 percent fastballs compared to 18 percent sliders, 12 percent curveballs and seven percent changeups.
The curve is considered Keller’s best pitch, but he has been reluctant to throw it because major-league hitters aren’t as prone to swing at pitches out of the strike zone.
“I’ve got to throw it for strikes, establish it in the strike zone before I can get guys to chase it,” Keller said.
Despite Keller’s rocky results in the big leagues, his 15 strikeouts in 12 innings are indicative that he has the talent to get hitters out. It’s just a matter of consistency.
It was mentioned to Keller that a lot of players have had to go back to minor leagues before enjoying success in the major leagues. Those words rang hollow, though.
“You want to tell yourself that, but it doesn’t really help,” Keller said. “I want to come up and stick. I’ve got to get better to do that.”
Williams, meanwhile, returns for the first time since leaving his May 16 start against the Padres at San Diego with a right side strain.
“There's a lot to look forward to,” Williams was saying Tuesday. “It’s nice coming home after a 10-day road trip and being at home, and being here for a week. But it’s going to be fun for everybody to be together on this squad.”
This season, Williams is 2-1 in nine starts, posting a 3.33 ERA alongside a 1.13 WHIP.
Keller seems to have figured out one of his biggest problem at the major-league level. The next step is to find a way to fix it.