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BREAKING NEWS

Royals take wrong turn after Keller’s fine start

Royals.comJuly 10, 2021

CLEVELAND — Standing on the field a day after his previous start against the Twins, Brad Keller had a lighter presence about him, like a weight was lifted off his shoulders.

Something had clicked for him on the mound, perhaps with the potential to turn his season around, and he needed to build on it next time out.

Consider that done. In his final start before the All-Star break, Keller was excellent against the Indians on Friday night, in a pitcher’s duel that ultimately ended with a 2-1 walk-off loss for the Royals when Bobby Bradley hit a hanging slider from reliever Jake Brentz in the bottom of the ninth inning at Progressive Field.

It was the Royals’ second consecutive walk-off loss in the series and their 14th loss in their last 17 games. Kansas City is now 16 games under .500 and at the bottom of the American League Central with two games to go before the break. And the club’s last three losses have come at the hands of the relievers that have been so good — and used so often — so far this season: Scott Barlow and Greg Holland on both Wednesday and Thursday, and Brentz on Friday.

“Got to execute that better and there’s probably a much better result,” Brentz said. “It’s part of baseball. Sometimes it’s great to you and sometimes it’s not great to you. You just got to have a short [memory] and go out there tomorrow and get the job done.”

If the Royals are to make any sort of turnaround in the second half — and future seasons — they’re going to need Keller to be the pitcher he’s been the past two starts.

Keller relied heavily on his slider — a pitch that hadn’t been as successful as he needed it to be this year. His mechanics have been off, a trend he’s worked to fix in between starts. Keller wasn’t getting on top of the ball as he delivered the pitch, causing it to sling over the plate or in the dirt instead of spinning it to its spot.

Of his 114 pitches on Friday, 53 were sliders (46 percent), and he registered 10 whiffs on the pitch, including on five of his nine strikeouts. The pitch had better depth on it than it has all season, and at times, it had a curveball shape that threw hitters off even further.

“If I wanted it sweeping, I was able to come down on the seams a little bit,” Keller said. “Especially when I got into those 3-2 counts, I wanted to throw them over the plate, just down. All year I’ve been so out of my mechanics that I haven’t done it a whole lot. Today, I felt like I was able to differentiate between the two.”

Keller faced trouble in the second when he walked two batters and yielded a run on Bradley Zimmer’s single. But unlike past starts, it didn’t spiral on Keller. He stepped off the mound, took a breath and struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning.

“Trusting it more,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Really it sounds simple. But having the conviction when you step on the mound and release the ball is another thing. He had it all going for him.

“And then late, it was him taking a step forward as a leader on the staff that, ‘This is my game.’”

After Jorge Soler tied the game, 1-1, with his first home run since June 10, Keller became the first Royals starter to record an out in the eighth inning this season — illuminating how much the bullpen has been used in this first half — and to get those two outs required a heads-up double play executed by catcher Salvador Perez.

Indians right fielder Daniel Johnson led off with a fly ball to left-center that dropped in between Michael. A Taylor and Andrew Benintendi, and Taylor’s errant throw sailed past first base to put Johnson on second.

After Cesar Hernandez lined a single into right field, a bizarre baserunning play eliminated both runners. Amed Rosario hit a chopper to shortstop Nicky Lopez, who threw home to Perez. The AL All-Star starting backstop chased Johnson back to third base, but Hernandez was sliding in there. Perez tagged both, resulting in a double play because Johnson came off the bag. Indians manager Terry Francona argued the call and was ejected.

“Salvy did a great job tagging the runner and then waiting to see if the other guy comes off,” Matheny said. “That’s textbook. It takes a headsy play to work it out when so much else is happening. That was a huge momentum shift.”

Matheny went to Brentz after Keller walked José Ramírez, and the lefty struck out Franmil Reyes — Thursday night’s walk-off homer hero — to end the inning. But the Royals didn’t capitalize in the top of the ninth on Benintendi’s leadoff double.

“More than anything else right now, we’re looking for team wins,” Matheny said. “And unfortunately, that was a one-run game that went in the wrong direction.”

Keller relied heavily on his slider — a pitch that hadn’t been as successful as he needed it to be this year. His mechanics have been off, a trend he’s worked to fix in between starts. Keller wasn’t getting on top of the ball as he delivered the pitch, causing it to sling over the plate or in the dirt instead of spinning it to its spot.

Of his 114 pitches on Friday, 53 were sliders (46 percent), and he registered 10 whiffs on the pitch, including on five of his nine strikeouts. The pitch had better depth on it than it has all season, and at times, it had a curveball shape that threw hitters off even further.

“If I wanted it sweeping, I was able to come down on the seams a little bit,” Keller said. “Especially when I got into those 3-2 counts, I wanted to throw them over the plate, just down. All year I’ve been so out of my mechanics that I haven’t done it a whole lot. Today, I felt like I was able to differentiate between the two.”

Keller faced trouble in the second when he walked two batters and yielded a run on Bradley Zimmer’s single. But unlike past starts, it didn’t spiral on Keller. He stepped off the mound, took a breath and struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning.

“Trusting it more,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Really it sounds simple. But having the conviction when you step on the mound and release the ball is another thing. He had it all going for him.

“And then late, it was him taking a step forward as a leader on the staff that, ‘This is my game.’”

After Jorge Soler tied the game, 1-1, with his first home run since June 10, Keller became the first Royals starter to record an out in the eighth inning this season — illuminating how much the bullpen has been used in this first half — and to get those two outs required a heads-up double play executed by catcher Salvador Perez.

Indians right fielder Daniel Johnson led off with a fly ball to left-center that dropped in between Michael. A Taylor and Andrew Benintendi, and Taylor’s errant throw sailed past first base to put Johnson on second.

After Cesar Hernandez lined a single into right field, a bizarre baserunning play eliminated both runners. Amed Rosario hit a chopper to shortstop Nicky Lopez, who threw home to Perez. The AL All-Star starting backstop chased Johnson back to third base, but Hernandez was sliding in there. Perez tagged both, resulting in a double play because Johnson came off the bag. Indians manager Terry Francona argued the call and was ejected.

“Salvy did a great job tagging the runner and then waiting to see if the other guy comes off,” Matheny said. “That’s textbook. It takes a headsy play to work it out when so much else is happening. That was a huge momentum shift.”

Matheny went to Brentz after Keller walked José Ramírez, and the lefty struck out Franmil Reyes — Thursday night’s walk-off homer hero — to end the inning. But the Royals didn’t capitalize in the top of the ninth on Benintendi’s leadoff double.

“More than anything else right now, we’re looking for team wins,” Matheny said. “And unfortunately, that was a one-run game that went in the wrong direction.”

Copyright © Meridian Media, 2021. All Rights Reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced without Meridian Media’s express consent.

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