Keller, Feliz, Reyes give Bucs night to celebrate

August 24th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Right now, with the worst second-half record in the Majors, the Pirates can find solace in any win. They were especially relieved and excited after ’ walk-off single to left field completed a ninth-inning comeback against Reds closer and capped their 3-2 win on Friday night at PNC Park.

It was the Pirates’ fifth win of the season when trailing after eight innings, but it was only their ninth win in 39 games since the All-Star break. That didn’t dampen the mood as they chased Reyes into left field, showering him with water and trying to tear off his all-black Players’ Weekend jersey.

“The vibe, the energy and the effort’s there, but those don’t always translate to wins. They haven’t for us,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “Tonight, we stay in a game, we keep hunting, and we keep playing. It paid off for us.”

As Pittsburgh’s front office looks toward next season, they can find encouragement in more than just Friday’s final score.

Pirates No. 1 prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) Mitch "Kells" Keller put together the best start of his young career. Reliever escaped a critical jam. And Reyes, sent down to Triple-A after a rough April, delivered the biggest hit of the night.

This was the version of Keller the Pirates were hoping to see when they committed to keeping him in the rotation for the rest of this season. The 23-year-old right-hander allowed only one run and struck out nine batters over six innings. The only damage done against Keller was a home run by record-setting Reds rookie .

Keller was dominant from the start, striking out and in a perfect first inning. That immediately sent a message: This was going to be different than his Major League debut in Cincinnati on May 27, when he gave up six runs in the first inning.

The Reds swung and missed on 19 of Keller’s 91 pitches, including 10 of the 28 sliders he threw. He set himself up for success all night by throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 24 hitters he faced.

"That's just the name of the game. When you get ahead, statistically, the batting averages go way down,” Keller said. “That's how I pitch. That's how I’ve always pitched. Just making sure I was nailing that today."

Early on, Keller consistently located his curveball and slider in or around the strike zone when he wanted. By getting ahead in the count so often and showing he could throw his breaking balls for strikes, he forced the Reds to be aggressive and chase pitches out of the zone later in the game.

“Whenever you do well, it's a confidence boost,” said Keller, who entered the night with an 8.86 ERA after five big league starts and exited with a 7.24 mark. “I feel good, and when the team wins, it's great."

The Pirates tied it up against Reds starter in the sixth, but Keller came close to giving the lead back in the seventh. With runners on the corners and nobody out in the seventh, Hurdle summoned Feliz from the bullpen.

Feliz went out and lived up to the “FUEGO” nickname above his No. 45.

The right-hander struck out the side and walked off the mound unscathed. Feliz needed only 13 pitches to escape the jam, firing fastballs and spinning sliders past , and .

Since his ill-fated outing as the opener on May 24, Feliz has put together a 1.87 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 32 appearances. He’s making use of his 95 mph fastball at the top of the strike zone, and he’s finally fashioned his slider into a swing-and-miss pitch.

“The way he was able to attack there, it looked like he had done it a number of times,” Hurdle said. “He’s just gotten better as the season’s gone on.”

The Pirates acquired Feliz believing he had the stuff to be a late-inning reliever. It didn’t happen last season, and he didn’t pitch well enough this spring to earn a spot in their Opening Day bullpen. But more nights like this will further solidify his standing heading into next season.

“When I have those kinds of roles, that means a lot to me to get more comfortable there and show those guys I can be in this position,” Feliz said.

Aquino struck again in the eighth, lining a go-ahead RBI double to left field off setup man . But the Pirates tied the game against Iglesias with three straight singles by , and , then catcher bunted the winning run over to third base.

Up came Reyes, pinch-hitting for closer . After an unforgettable debut last September, the super-utility man struggled to find a fit on the bench before being optioned to Indianapolis on May 4. Reyes returned after the Trade Deadline looking to prove himself worthy of a reserve role.

“He went down and he played hard. He worked on all aspects of his game,” Hurdle said. “He’s come back. He’s bitten off some playing time.”

Reyes certainly looked comfortable against Iglesias, taking two straight sliders then slapping the third one deep to left field and setting off the Pirates’ celebration.

“It was a good at-bat for us that finished off a really good team win,” Hurdle said.