Pitcher Mitch Keller Personifies Why The Pirates Are a Different Team This Season
They’re still not a potential pennant-winning collection but they have an Ace to deal, and that’s progress.
Their 20-8 start was as unanticipated as it was impossible to trust, and the 1-9 implosion that followed seems confirmation enough these are indeed the same old Bucs.
But they’re not.
For starters, this year’s Pirates have an Ace.
Mitch Keller has established at least that much in the wake of a performance on Monday night at PNC Park that has the potential to resonate beyond the snapping of a seven-game losing streak, beyond this week and beyond the rest of this season.
Keller’s four-hit, eight-strikeout domination of Colorado put the exclamation point on how far he’s continued to come since last September.
That was when Keller had finally started to consistently approach realizing the long-elusive ceiling the Pirates had been waiting on ever since they drafted him in the second round in 2014.
It’s been more of the same this season, a steady collection of efforts that have suggested Keller may yet be “that guy” after all.
Monday night’s masterpiece took Keller to yet another level in terms of what he did, and when he did it.
The Bucs desperately needed a starting pitcher to draw a line in the sand and once and for all do something about a losing streak that needed to be stopped.
Keller responded with a nine-inning shutout, something no Pirates pitcher had been able to produce since 2018 and something only four other pitchers in Major League Baseball had achieved this season (one of the four was a guy named Gerrit Cole).
“That’s what guys that start on opening day do,” manager Derek Shelton emphasized.
Alas, Keller can only start once every five days.
But all is not yet lost, despite all current evidence to the contrary.
The Pirates lost the next two games after Keller authored a respectable Cole impersonation and ultimately lost the series to the Rockies.
But they’re still 16-3 when their starting pitcher manages to pitch at least six innings.
That, too, is likely an unsustainable pace. But if Keller takes what he was able to do on Monday night and runs with it, if youngsters Roansy Contreras and Johan Oviedo can follow Keller’s lead, and if Vince Velasquez can return sooner rather than later as the Pirates anticipate, they have a chance to be in most games.
And to win their share.
It would help if they remembered how to score runs, how to make the plays in the field they should reasonably be expected to make, and how to stay aggressive without consistently running into outs on the bases.
Big picture-wise, the 21-17 overall record the Pirates have taken with them to Baltimore this weekend feels much more representative than the white-hot start or the current can’t-win-for-losing slog.
There will be more peaks and valleys ahead, more hot and cold and more consistently inconsistent play individually and collectively.
But this is neither a 100-loss team nor one that shouldn’t be expected to get better as the season progresses.
And that’s a welcomed change that can be embraced after 38 games.
Particularly when it’s Mitch Keller’s turn to pitch.