Josh Bell is an animal.
He made that clear when he did this — from his weaker, right-hand side, no less — in the second inning of the Pirates' 5-4 loss to the Tigers Tuesday at PNC Park:
Sure, the Pirates lost, and sure, Bell fell silent after this hit early in the game. Most notably, he grounded into a game-ending double play in the bottom of the ninth with two on and a legitimate chance to tie or win.
To which I present my first thought:
1. Leave Josh Bell alone
So Bell wasn't the hero tonight. Yeah, he could've been, and yeah, it would've been a sight to behold if he blasted one into the river to walk things off in dramatic fashion. With Starling Marte on first, a simple double probably would've won the game. I get that.
He'll be fine. If you want to be angry or you want to spew some vitriol, that's cool, too. I understand how frustrating this team — and this organization — can be. Just keep your venom away from No. 55 for now. It was a less-than-perfect game during a less-than-perfect run. All along, fans and media alike have projected a regression of some sort for Bell. He just couldn't maintain that pace for a full 162-game season. It was unfair to ever think that could happen.
But now that it's happening, don't act surprised. He'll level off, and the footing he finds will be more than adequate.
For now, just chill on Bell. Enjoy what he does do and don't dwell too much on his groundouts and his double plays.
2. Keller can play ... I think?
I don't know what to make of Mitch Keller. I don't know if the Pirates know what to make of Keller, either. In fact, I'm unsure it's the right time to "make" anything of him. He's a 23-year-old pitcher working through the bumps of big-league play, and his performance is pretty much as expected.
Sometimes, he flashes brilliance:
Sometimes, he commits a throwing error to first after fielding a routine sacrifice bunt. Sometimes he lets his curveball — which was largely considered a strength but has gone underutilized at MLB level — hang a little in the zone.
"I left a few up, especially in that first inning," Keller was saying of his curveball at his stall postgame at PNC Park. "Other than that, it felt pretty good, we were just going slider over that tonight."
In his MLB debut, Keller allowed a first-inning grand slam en route to one of the most brutal debut innings a young pitcher could expect. I was there in Cincinnati watching it happen. I distinctly remember thinking, "Oh, no. They gotta pull this kid before he's ruined forever." It was bad.
Only the Pirates didn't pull Keller. They left him in the game, and he responded by pitching three shutout innings, striking out seven and retiring 10 of his last 11 batters. Shows how much I know.
His second outing against the Braves last week, on June 12, was worse. He allowed six earned runs in three innings, notching 45 strikes on 71 pitches. Again, it was bad.
So when he took the mound Tuesday evening at home for the first time in his career, nobody knew what to expect. The Tigers had four runs by the time he left the mound, but just two of those were on Keller, as a Jung Ho Kang fielding error resulted in the other two, which brings me to...
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