KANSAS CITY — Royals right-hander Brad Keller couldn’t wait to flush the memory of his last start in Cleveland on Monday, when he gave up a season-high eight hits and five runs (four earned) over 6 2/3 innings in a loss.
Keller thought he pitched better than that. Many of those hits simply found holes.
The 25-year-old didn’t have that issue at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday. Keller tossed a five-hit shutout, the first of his career, in an 11-0 Royals victory — their season-high sixth straight.
The Royals’ suddenly resurgent offense again did its part, supplying Keller with a 10-0 lead after just three innings. The Royals have scored 44 runs during their winning streak.
“We want to finish strong,” Royals first baseman Hunter Dozier said. “We had a meeting a couple days ago, and [Alex Gordon] said to just finish strong and have some momentum for next year. We’re just focused on that.”
Keller didn’t need nearly that much run support.
Normally a sinker-dominant pitcher, Keller relied mostly on his much-improving slider and four-seamer, though he did induce 13 groundouts. He walked one and struck out two.
Of Keller’s 111 pitches, 95 were either four-seamers or sliders.
“Today I felt we used their aggressiveness to our advantage,” Keller said. “It seems like they were swinging the first two pitches every time. Especially when we get up by 10, you just throw strikes.
“We didn’t seem to pitch in a whole lot. I felt good with my four-seamer and then commanding my slider. We used the sinker when we needed to but it got away from me at times.”
The Pirates were impressed with Keller’s command.
“When you throw nine innings and 111 pitches with two punchouts, he’s getting a lot of contact,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton, formerly bench coach for the Twins. “He’s pitched well all year. He continues to fill up the zone. He gets contact and keeps guys sharp. He’s going, he’s rapid and he’s pitching really well. You can see, having seen him last year in the division, this kid is maturing into a really good pitcher.”
Keller said he was determined to get the shutout.
“It was really exciting,” Keller said. “Mike [Matheny] said he was going to cap me at a certain pitch count [at 110]. I said it doesn’t matter to me. I want to get three outs and do it for the bullpen.
“Then afterward he said, ‘I’ll let you get to 111.'”
Matheny, indeed, wanted Keller to get the shutout, too.
“Complete-game shutouts are a big deal,” Matheny said. “It sends a message to the rest of the guys that it’s the kind of pitching they want. It was a great job.”
The Royals took a quick 4-0 lead in the first despite having only one ball leave the infield. But three walks, an infield hit and a wild pitch that scored two runners — when Pirates starter Chad Kuhl’s throw bounced off the home-plate umpire’s mask and caromed away — all contributed.
From there the Royals relied on a little power. Salvador Perez hit his fifth homer and Dozier hit his sixth. But they also benefited from Pittsburgh’s generosity, as the Pirates walked eight batters and hit another.