The right-hander has been susceptible to a lack of command this season. In 66 innings, he had issued 30 walks and nine home runs that contributed to an elevated 6.14 ERA coming into this one. But his first four innings against the Red Sox saw a version of Keller that commanded the zone with 58 pitches that accounted for 32 strikes.
“Watching the first four [innings], he’s on track there to go through seven,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He was efficient, he was attacking. He just had one mark early on, but after that, I thought he did a great job.”
The first inning has given Keller trouble this season, as evidenced by a 9.64 ERA in the opening frame of his starts. Xander Bogaerts lined a single to Michael A. Taylor in center field that plated Alex Verdugo for the game’s first run. But Keller was able to show his potential to the home crowd and the Red Sox, despite the blemish.
With the first inning behind him, Keller retired seven consecutive batters between the second and fourth innings for an impressive bounce-back performance. From groundouts to strikeouts, he looked unhittable. But the fifth inning didn’t bring the same scoreless results, however.
Among the first four batters he faced in the fifth, Keller recorded one out in the midst of allowing two walks and a decisive RBI triple to Bobby Dalbec that snapped a 1-1 tie. The inning continued to unravel as Dalbec scored on a groundout before J.D. Martinez provided the last hit to Keller’s final line with a two-run home run.
Keller required over 30 pitches to get through eight batters before he could walk off the mound with his final out of the day. It was the bitter end to an outing that he was proud of up until the ill-fated fifth inning.
“I felt like I settled down,” Keller said. “[But] got into another battle count, walked a guy and then just a dumb pitch selection to J.D. Martinez right there cost me two more runs.
“I felt good. Obviously, like I said, the walks came back to bite me. It’s never acceptable, especially to lead off an inning in a tight game like 1-1, so I got to be better than that.”
Both Keller and Matheny were satisfied with the pitch selection and the movement of his arsenal. Keller topped 97.4 mph on his four-seam fastball, according to Statcast, as he was able to locate it on and off the plate for two strikeouts.
“The ball was coming out of his hand really good,” Matheny said. “But things like the [leadoff] walk, then all of a sudden the second walk, both of those scoring ended up being a really long inning, he was at 32 pitches that inning.
“It’s a shame because he had the right kind of stuff. His slider had the right kind of break.”
The 25-year-old Keller has been trying to stabilize himself on the mound since a rough start to the season where he allowed 16 earned runs through 12 innings in four starts. He was able to find his rhythm in May as he put up an ERA of 3.86 with 33 strikeouts in six starts, but he hasn’t found similar numbers in three of his four June starts.
Saturday’s loss marked Keller’s third consecutive start in which he allowed at least five earned runs.