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Huntington: Keller will come up when there’s ‘opportunity’


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Mitch Keller - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

It’s seemingly time for the Pirates to let the kids play as they have fallen out of contention.

Bring up Mitch Keller, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Cole Tucker and Will Craig from Class AAA Indianapolis and see what they can do in the major leagues. At least, that’s the clamor among a certain percentage of the fan base.

However, Neal Huntington countered that idea Sunday by saying the Pirates are already letting the youngsters play as they try to get a head start on 2020.

“In terms of play the kids, we are,” Huntington said as he met with reporters before the game with the Mets at PNC Park. “We have a very large group of players in their second and third full seasons. We’ve got a group that they’re playing their first full season. We are essentially playing the kids. We have some other guys who will come up when they’re ready. That’s the challenge. It’s never good to bring a player up before you feel he’s ready. They need to be ready to take that next step. As we have those guys, we’ll look forward to doing that.”

Keller was the consensus No. 1 prospect in the farm system before the season. He had three miserable starts for the Pirates in May and June and is 7-5 with a 3.56 ERA in 19 starts for Indianapolis.

Huntington did say that Keller is “pounding on the door.” However, the Pirates are hesitant to promote Keller unless he would be assured of taking a regular turn in the rotation. At the present, the Pirates don’t plan on removing any of their starters.

“As much as anything else, it’s about opportunity,” Huntington said. “With what Brault and Agrazal have done, it’s tough to move them out with the way they’ve pitched. Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Chris Archer — another great sign for optimism last night; the last handful of starts have been better than the one that he got removed early. We’re seeing some positives there, so as you start to look around the rotation, part of it is opportunity.

“With Mitch, it’s just continuing to refine the things that are going to allow him to be successful up here. You run down the laundry list like you do with every young pitcher. This is the same.”

What Huntington didn’t say is the Pirates have concerns about how Keller handled previous stints in the major leagues. Quite simply, he looked overmatched and perhaps even intimidated.

Keller was rocked for six runs in four innings by the Reds on May 27 in his major-league debut at Cincinnati. He was also tagged for six runs in three innings by the Braves at Atlanta on June 12 and gave up four runs (two earned) in five innings to the woeful Tigers on June 17 at PNC Park.

Although he had only one loss and two no-decisions in those three starts, his ERA was 10.50.

In other news from Huntington’s confab:

The general manager admitted it was disappointing to have to designate Jung Ho Kang for assignment Friday. Kang hit just .169/.222/.395 with 10 home runs in 65 games after being re-signed to a one-year, $3-million contract at the end of last season.

“We saw the hands. We saw the power. Unfortunately, the year and a half away from competitive baseball just made it very tough,” Huntington said. “The hitting consistency became his biggest challenge. He may never get it back, or maybe a sequence of consistent at-bats, he gets it back and somebody will find themselves a good player.”

Francisco Cervelli “continues to do amazing work off the field to stay in shape” as he recovers from a concussion. However, Cervelli still has not been cleared by doctors to go on a rehab assignment.

Gregory Polanco is “feeling much better” as he rehabs from the left shoulder inflammation that has landed him on the injured list. Polanco had surgery on the shoulder last September.

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