Brad Keller was nearing 50 pitches when he struck out Mike Trout and Jared Walsh to end the top of the third inning with the bases loaded Wednesday afternoon. Getting out of that frame unscathed turned around Keller’s outing.
The right-hander looked like the ace Kansas City was hoping he’d be in the Royals’ 6-1 win at Kauffman Stadium. Keller’s longest outing of the season brought 5 2/3 innings of one-run baseball with five strikeouts, four hits and one walk in the series finale against the Angels.
“That was the Brad Keller we were hoping to see,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “That was fun to watch and I just kind of had an idea that he was going to come out aggressive and trust his stuff.”
The only blemish on his final line happened in the sixth inning, when Jared Walsh doubled in Trout to put the Angels on the board. Keller was removed in favor of Jake Brentz two batters later, after José Iglesias beat out a throw to first on a potential double-play grounder to short.
The one-run lead eventually grew, as the Kansas City offense packed in plenty of power and speed to give Keller insurance for his first win of the season.
Salvador Perez notched his seventh and eighth hits of the series, and that set the tone for the lineup’s offensive party in the game’s later innings. Cam Gallagher drove in Michael A. Taylor with a sac fly that traveled only 110 feet from home plate, while Carlos Santana hit a two-run homer.
The Royals needed Keller to find the form that made him dominate opposing teams in 2020. Heading into the game, Kansas City was 1-4 in games started by a right-handed pitcher, with Keller being responsible for one of those losses. After back-to-back disappointing outings, Keller resorted to changing his mechanics and forgetting the past.
“We can’t go back and change anything. What happened, happened,” Keller said. “We gotta look forward. We gotta make things better, we can’t continue to fall into that same rut of what we’re doing. For me, it was just, ‘OK, it’s in the past, I get a new start in five days.'”
In his prior start against the Chicago White Sox, Keller was tagged for the loss after he gave up four earned runs in 3 1/3 innings on 69 pitches. It wasn’t until the fifth inning against the Angels that Keller hit that same pitch count. With his new mechanics, Keller stayed efficient and hit 98 mph with his four-seam fastball, according to Statcast.
“I couldn’t throw that hard with the mechanics I was working with in the first two starts,” Keller said. “I feel like now with some of the adjustments that we made, it made it easier for the ball to come out cleaner.”
The right-hander’s newfound form allowed him to be himself in the strike zone and use his ability to throw with overpowering movement, according to Matheny, instead of trying to paint the corners.
“Those sorts of pitches are good in certain counts, but not when you have great overpowering stuff, and that’s what he has,” Matheny said. “You can just come at it and then you get the advantage counts and then you can start trying to be a little more fine. He had the psychology backwards in his approach.”
Keller looked like an ace on the mound against the Angels, which provided clarity for what could be to come. If he can stay within his redefined mechanics, it’ll give the Royals’ rotation an edge over their divisional rivals within the AL Central.