Keller looks to be 'feeling good' for 2022

Righty focused on offseason program, being healthy; McBroom sets HR mark

September 18th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- had known for some time that he wouldn’t return to the mound in 2021, but with Friday's news that the Royals right-hander will be shut down the rest of the season, his focus solely turned on getting healthy for 2022.

Keller has been on the injured list since late August with a right lat strain that he sustained while pitching in Seattle. He had overcome a 36-pitch first inning and settled down to keep the Royals in the game before feeling tightness in the fourth inning. In the fifth, he yanked a fastball to Kyle Seager and said his arm “lit up” in pain.

That’s when manager Mike Matheny and trainer Nick Kenney came out to the mound.

“Even when they came out there, I was like, ‘No, no, I’m fine,’” Keller said before Saturday's game against the Mariners at Kauffman Stadium. “In denial and all that because the competition takes over, the adrenaline, I’m not getting out of this game. … You think about, ‘What if I hadn’t gone out for the fifth?’ But it’s all hindsight. The No. 1 focus now is being healthy.”

Keller, the Royals’ Opening Day starter, had a rough start to the season with a 5.97 ERA in 19 starts. But he turned things around in the second half thanks to mechanical adjustments with his slider and a change in mindset in attacking the zone. In seven starts after the All-Star break, Keller logged a 3.96 ERA.

“The timing of it sucks,” Keller said. “I felt like I was starting to put some starts together in the second half. Getting on a little bit of a roll. I had started to feel like myself again. Starting to attack the zone a little bit better, starting to pitch in a little bit better. Stuff that I’ve always done in the past that I just wasn’t doing in the first half.

“What me and [pitching coach] Cal [Eldred] talked about a million times, those mechanical adjustments, were definitely a contributing factor to go out there and put up some good starts. I felt like I started to get my confidence back again and put together a decent second half. And then this happens.”

Keller won’t throw for the rest of the regular season, but the Royals have already started to put together an offseason plan that has him beginning a build-up in November and taking it slow throughout the winter months before ramping up in Spring Training.

Keller, 26, figures to be another big part of a young Kansas City rotation next season, and the Royals will need his experience. And if he’s healthy, he’ll need to get back to the pitcher he was in 2019 and ’20 -- the pitcher he was starting to be again in the second half of the season -- for the club to compete.

“Ultimately the goal is to get healthy for 2022,” Keller said. “Go into Spring Training, compete. We’ve already started to talk about the offseason program, with the throwing program going to be a little longer because we’ll be starting a bit slower because of this.

“But for the most part, I’ll be able to lift, get strong and come back feeling good for 2022.”

No minor feat

Royals first baseman Ryan McBroom hit his 31st Triple-A home run of the season on Friday to break the single-season record in the Storm Chasers era (since 2011). The 29-year-old is hitting .264 with an .869 OPS across 108 games with Omaha.

“It’s exciting,” McBroom told Storm Chasers social/team reporter Ana Bellinghausen. “Honestly, I feel like most of the credit needs to go to my teammates, always getting on base, buying me fastballs, buying me good pitches to hit. … It’s an exciting year, and I’m proud to do something like this.”

Of the nine Minor League players who have hit 30 home runs this season as of Friday, four are in the Royals' organization and currently with Omaha: McBroom (31), MJ Melendez (37, which leads the Minors), Bobby Witt Jr. (32) and Nick Pratto (30). Melendez’s 37 homers between Double-A and Triple-A this season are the fourth most by a Minor League player in Royals history.


“He’s the best center fielder in baseball. I can’t even describe how good he’s been this year out there. And credit to Izzy [outfielder Kyle Isbel], he did a great job stepping in for MT. But those are big shoes to fill. He’s the best I’ve seen defensively, and it’s not even that close.” -- Whit Merrifield, on Michael A. Taylor being back in center field for the Royals