Brad Keller is currently the ace in the Kansas City Royals rotation. With a glut of young pitchers with promise waiting in the wings, he might not always fill that role, but the Opening Day starter certainly can put that on his resume for now.
That makes his early season struggles that much harder for the Royals to take. After two starts, Keller is 0-1 with a 19.29 ERA. He’s allowed 10 earned runs on 15 hits in 4 2/3 innings. He’s walked five and struck out three.
He’ll take the mound for the Royals on Wednesday afternoon in the finale of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels. He’ll be facing RHP Griffin Canning for the Angels. The Royals took Tuesday’s game, 3-2.
When his right-hander steps on the mound, Kansas City manager Mike Matheny is expecting the old Brad Keller to return.
“I’m expecting Brad to be Brad,” Matheny said Tuesday. “Nothing more, nothing less. This is a guy we love to watch every time he gets on the mound.”
Matheny was quick to remind the media on the Zoom call that Keller is still a relatively young pitcher in spite of his experience. The former Rule-5 pick in 2017 will turn 26 in July. Matheny says that youth will help Keller overcome the early struggles.
“Every one of these little setbacks, these challenges, are developmental,” Matheny said. “I know that Brad has worn these last two (starts) really hard. That usually causes some great conversations, where you can take a step backwards and realize that there are some steps that need to be taken forward.
“The right conversations have been happening. The stuff looks right. It’s just a matter of putting a couple of things together.”
Canning struggled early against the Blue Jays in his only appearance so far this season. He gave up three runs in the first inning but finished his night with four runs allowed on three hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked one.
The Angels probably just need Canning to be average, as they rely on a productive offense. They’re seventh in MLB in batting average, tied for second in runs and tied for fourth in home runs. The No. 2 and 3 men in the order — Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani — have combined for eight home runs and 20 RBIs.
Trout is averaging 423 feet on his four home runs. And Ohtani became just the fifth player since the introduction of Statcast in 2015 to have an exit velocity of at least 119 miles per hour with a double Monday night. He hit his fourth homer of the season Tuesday night.
“It’s impressive,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said of Ohtani’s scorching line drive. “He’s an impressive athlete. And right now, he can’t feel any better about himself or have any more self-confidence.”
Facing hitters such as Trout and Ohtani, Matheny just hopes that on Wednesday, Keller will be “the kind of pitcher he knows he can be. I told Brad a couple of days ago, ‘I can’t wait to watch.’ I believe it’s going to be something impressive to watch.”
–Field Level Media