116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WASHINGTON — Trying to make major adjustments during a season isn’t easy, even for Major League pitchers.
It is something Cedar Rapids native and Xavier High School product Mitch Keller is dealing with now with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A right-handed starter, Keller changed the grip on some of his pitches — something technology played a role in.
“We just noticed that my four-seam fastball was getting hit, be that location or whatever it may be,” said Keller, 26, standing by his locker in the spacious Pittsburgh clubhouse before Monday’s game at Washington. “We just needed to make a new adjustment there, adding a new fastball so it moved a little bit more and kept hitters off balance. I think that has really helped a lot.
“Adding a new pitch during the season is kind of stressful ... and not something you want to have to do, but the game will tell you what you need to do. I think I have done pretty well with the adjustment and just ready to keep going with it.”
Keller (2-5, 4.77 ERA) is slated to pitch Wednesday afternoon when the Pirates end a three-game series in their annual trip to the nation’s capital to face the Nationals.
His previous start came on Friday in a loss at Tampa Bay.
“With him throwing the sinker, he’s going to give up ground-ball base hits. So, really can’t fault him for that,” Pittsburgh Manager Derek Shelton told reporters in Florida after the game Friday. “He continued to battle and gave us five. ... He did a nice job bouncing back after that tough inning.”
“There is definitely room for improvement,” Keller said of his start at Tampa Bay as he allowed three earned runs in five innings. “As a starter, you want to go as deep as you can.”
He will face a Washington lineup that includes hot-hitting Josh Bell, a former Pittsburgh first baseman; Nelson Cruz, a veteran DH; and right fielder Juan Soto, the phenom who has struggled with the runners in scoring position this year.
So how did Keller decide to make some changes?
“It was kind of weird; it all happened on the same day,” he said of talking to Pittsburgh coaches. “I came to them and I said, ‘What do you think of me throwing the sinker?’ They were like, we were going to come to you (with the same idea). It is funny how it all worked out” after an outing in Cincinnati on May 7 when he allowed five earned runs in 4.1 innings.
As he noted, the game — or the hitters — will tell a pitcher if changes need to be made.
“Just looking at statistics on four-seam fastballs, it was getting hit a lot more than my other pitches so we needed to make a change,” said Keller, a second-round pick out of Xavier by the Pirates in 2014. “Technology has helped me develop these pitches so it is really a blessing.”
He has embraced technology in the game.
“I didn’t really know much about it until it started coming up more and more,” he said. “That is how I got used to it, too. It is not part of the game — it is the game, which is cool. Maybe sometimes you wish it wasn’t, but it is what it is.”
Keller said he can’t add too much volume to his side sessions in between starts since pitchers are closely watched.
“It’s a hard thing,” he said. “You have to manage that workload; you have to be really good with your quality workload.”
Tyler Beede, a reliever with the Pirates, said he has a lot in common with Keller. Both were high draft picks who came up through the minors as starters.
“We try to encourage one another,” said Beede, who played at college powerhouse Vanderbilt.
Keller made his Major League debut with the Pirates in 2019. Last year he was 5-11 with an ERA of 6.17 in 23 starts.
After making changes last month, Keller will make his ninth start since that transition when he takes the mound here Wednesday.
“I felt pretty good starting off the year, then I had a few innings where things didn’t go my way or I left some balls over the middle of the plate a little bit,” he said. “Then I started with a new sinker and slider grips and it has been working out well for me for the past month or so.
“I am feeling healthy and feeling really good.”
Comments: David Driver is a freelance writer in Maryland and can be reached at www.daytondavid.com and @DaytonVaDriver.