The Pittsburgh Pirates faced the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks’ ace in the series opener on Friday.
Now the tables are turned as the Diamondbacks face the Pirates’ ace, right-hander Mitch Keller, in the middle game of the set on Saturday. Pittsburgh hopes it goes better for Keller.
On Friday, the Pirates pummeled Zac Gallen, who finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award voting last season. He had his worst outing of this year in a 13-3 Arizona loss, yielding eight runs (five earned) on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Keller (5-1, 2.38 ERA) will face Diamondbacks rookie right-hander Brandon Pfaadt (0-1, 8.59) on Saturday.
Keller had a lot of stutter-steps earlier in his career but has rather suddenly developed into the Pirates’ No. 1 starter and a reliable stopper.
“I was just trying to have a job, honestly,” Keller said of previous years. “I was just trying to put something together so I could stay in this clubhouse with these guys and have a uniform. It’s pretty crazy.”
Of the three wins the Pirates had notched in the past 15 games entering this series, Keller nearly single-handedly accounted for two.
On Sunday, he struck out a career-best 13 batters in seven shutout innings during a 4-0 road win over the Baltimore Orioles.
The start before that, Keller threw his first career complete game and first career shutout on May 8 against the visiting Colorado Rockies.
Pirates manager Derek Shelton lumped Keller’s past two starts together, in the best possible way.
“The last two starts are those rare starts where you have everything working,” Shelton said.
Keller has already matched his win total from last season. He has not given up a home run over his past five starts. He is 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in four home outings.
Against the Diamondbacks, Keller won his only career start, on Aug. 10, 2022, when he gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings.
Pfaadt will have his hands full opposing Keller.
The Diamondbacks’ 2022 minor league pitcher of the year will be making his fourth big-league start Saturday, his first against Pittsburgh. The previous three all came this month after he was promoted from Triple-A Reno.
Things started off shaky in Pfaadt’s first two starts. He gave up a combined 13 runs and 16 hits in 9 2/3 innings against the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins, going 0-1.
Things got a little better for the 24-year-old on Sunday against the San Francisco Giants, when Pfaadt did not earn a decision but gave up one run and one hit in five innings.
He looked confident doing it.
“Everybody expected him to come up a puddle of mud or something like that (after those first two starts),” Arizona pitching coach Brent Strom said, according to MLB.com. “You know, he’s very strong and he believes in himself, and he’s had success throughout his career.
“I told him even after those first two, I said, ‘I’ve seen a lot of pitchers in my day, and I really believe (you are) going to be a good one eventually.’ Really, really good. And I just love the way he’s poised — he doesn’t get too high or too low. There’s a calmness about him.”
Not that it was easy to rebound for the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder.
“It was tough,” Pfaadt said, “but at the end of the day, you’ve got to trust yourself and bounce back. So that was the name of the game.”
–Field Level Media