SPORTS

Former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep Mitch Keller is healthy and dominating early

Minor league baseball notebook

Cedar Rapids Xavier pitcher Mitch Keller delivers a pitch during the fifth inning of their game against Cedar Rapids Jefferson at the 2013 Bob Vrbicek Metro Baseball Tournament at Love Park Baseball Complex on Monday, May 20, 2013, in Marion, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)
Cedar Rapids Xavier pitcher Mitch Keller delivers a pitch during the fifth inning of their game against Cedar Rapids Jefferson at the 2013 Bob Vrbicek Metro Baseball Tournament at Love Park Baseball Complex on Monday, May 20, 2013, in Marion, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Mitch Keller is healthy.

If you — or he — had any lingering doubts about that, they went away with his first two starts of the minor league baseball season. The former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep was sensational Monday night in the West Virginia Power’s home opener, striking out 10 and allowing just one hit in five innings against Greenville.

He followed that up with five more shutout innings Saturday afternoon, picking up the win against Lexington.

The 20-year-old right-hander, a second-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, was hampered last season by a strained forearm. That held him to six mostly ineffective starts in Rookie ball.

It’s an injury that often times is a precursor to the dreaded elbow ligament tear and Tommy John surgery, but Keller’s forearm healed over time, and he’s feeling great. Obviously.

“I took two months off, and I think that really, really helped,” Keller said. “My total mindset going into this season was that I’ve got to get after it.”

He got after Greenville, retiring 15 of the 16 Drive hitters he faced. He threw 68 pitches, 49 for strikes, using his fastball almost exclusively.

That fastball was consistently 93 to 95 miles per hour, he said, touching 96. That’s another indication of his health.

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“I just felt tremendous,” Keller said. “I was really nervous the first couple of batters. It was opening night at home, and there must have been 6,000 people there. That’s the most people I’ve ever pitched in front of. It was kind of overwhelming, really.

“I think I threw, like, four breaking balls, and that was it. I was getting ahead with the fastball. Get strike one with the fastball and work inside. They were really aggressive, swung at a lot of pitches.”

Against Lexington, he allowed four singles, two bunt singles. He wasn’t as dominant, striking out three, but didn’t allow a walk again.

Despite limited time on the mound in Rookie ball last season, Keller said he wasn’t surprised to be assigned to low-A West Virginia. He said that was kind of the Pirates’ plan for him all along.

The plan is working.

How They're Doing

Colin Rea (San Diego Padres): Cascade native and former University of Northern Iowa pitcher is 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA in three outings for San Diego, including two starts.
Scott Schebler (Cincinnati Reds): Outfielder from Solon and Cedar Rapids Prairie has a .207 batting average in 10 games and three RBIs..
Chad Christensen (Fort Myers/Class A): Former Cedar Rapids Washington prep is 5-for-17 in six games (.294) for Minnesota Twins affiliate. Has a home run and five RBIs.
Matt Dermody (Dunedin/Class A): Former University of Iowa pitcher is 1-0 with a save and a 0.00 earned run average in three games for Blue Jays affiliate. Has eight strikeouts in five innings.
Jon Keller (Bowie/Double-A): Relief pitcher and Cedar Rapids Xavier grad has thrown in two games for Baltimore Orioles affiliate. Has allowed four hits and four runs in 2 1/3 innings.
Sasha Kuebel (Peoria/Class A): Former Hawkeye pitcher has thrown twice for St. Loius Cardinals Midwest League affiliate and has a 9.00 ERA.
Derrick Loveless (Dunedin/Class A): The outfielder from Solon is 4-for-24 in eight games, with two RBIs.
  Kris Goodman (Greensboro/Class A): Former Hawkeye is 3-for-17 in six games for Florida Marlins affiliate. Has one RBI. 

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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