Keller shrugs off All-Star miss like 'true leader of Bucs' staff'

Right-hander logs 8 strong frames to pick up 10th win, secure series split with Mets

July 8th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- During a call home in the first days of Spring Training, Paul Skenes told his father, Craig, about the veterans he was leaning on in his first big league camp. There was Martín Pérez, who was entering his 13th Major League season, Marco Gonzales, who was entering his 10th, and then .

Craig was a bit surprised Keller’s name came up. He didn’t have as many years in the Majors as those other pitchers. Keller wasn’t even on the cusp of free agency yet. But even in that short amount of time, Skenes recognized that Keller was someone to look up to.

“He’s super smart, shares a lot of information,” Skenes said. “He’s been a great -- I don’t want to say ‘veteran,’ because I don’t know how long he’s been in the league -- but having that veteran presence … that’s something I think about a lot.”

On Monday afternoon, Keller gave a performance that encapsulated why he is the leader of this rotation. Coming off of two tough losses this weekend, Keller tossed eight innings of two-run ball as the Pirates earned a series split with an 8-2 win over the Mets at PNC Park.

Keller struck out six, including the side on just 10 pitches in the first inning. He settled in from there, his one blemish being a two-run shot by Brandon Nimmo in the sixth inning.

Outside of that, Keller conquered the elements of a muggy 88-degree day to have just about every pitch working while limiting the Mets to just eight base runners, none via walk.

Factor in a five-run two-out rally in the sixth, jump-started by a Rowdy Tellez RBI infield single to break the tie and capped by a Joshua Palacios homer. That was more than enough support for Keller, who gave the bullpen a much-needed breather.

“That’s the leader of a staff,” manager Derek Shelton said. “That’s what a guy that leads a staff, that’s what he does. That’s what a guy that pitches Opening Day does. That’s what a guy that in my mind, is an All-Star, does. It was outstanding.”

Alas for Keller, he’s only an All-Star in his manager and teammates’ eyes. Skenes and Bryan Reynolds were selected to the Midsummer Classic, but Keller was left off, despite posting remarkably similar numbers than he did in the first half of last season.

For comparison’s sake, keeping in mind that Keller will likely make one more start before the break:

  • 2023: 9-4, 3.31 ERA, 117 IP, 1.12 WHIP, 129 K's, 1 CG
  • 2024: 10-5, 3.40 ERA, 111 1/3 IP, 1.22 WHIP, 102 K's, 1 CG

Those 10 wins make Keller the first Pirate to accomplish that feat before the All-Star Game since Gerrit Cole in 2015. The only other Bucs pitchers to have 10 wins, 100 innings pitched and 100 strikeouts before the All-Star break were Cole (2015), Bob Veale (1966) and Bob Friend (1960).

That wasn’t quite enough to get Keller an All-Star nod during Sunday’s pitchers and reserves announcement, something that disappointed him, Shelton shared. But that didn’t carry over to the next day, when Keller needed to perform.

“After yesterday, just flushed it,” Keller said. “Nothing I can do about it. Super happy for Paul and Reynolds, they both deserve it. So yeah, I flushed it after yesterday. Had one day to be disappointed about it. “

Perhaps Keller can be a late addition, but right now, his fellow All-Stars feel he was snubbed.

“I think you see it every fifth or sixth day whenever he takes the mound,” said reliever David Bednar, who joined Keller as an All-Star last year. “It's impressive how he's able to just command a game. He always keeps us in the game. He's a true leader of that staff.”

“It's an honor to represent the city of Pittsburgh and the Pirates in the All-Star Game, but I definitely wish I could share that with more people," Skenes said on Sunday.

“He's been dependable, that's the biggest thing, just been dependable,” Reynolds said of Keller. “Count on him, know what you're going to get."

Well if Keller is not an All-Star, how does the unofficial title of being recognized as the staff’s leader sit?

“It definitely makes you feel a lot better,” Keller said. “Just from everyone that you're with all the time, when they recognize that, those words carry a lot of weight, especially when you're here day in and day out with everybody for over half the year.

“Yeah, it means a lot, for sure.”