Pirates-Reds Opening Day starting pitchers: Keller vs. Greene
The Pirates and Reds not only are National League Central rivals, but both are trying to gain liftoff with young and exciting talent in 2023. The clubs also are looking to show they can exceed preseason predictions that have them finishing in the bottom portion of the division.
On Thursday at Great American Ball Park, the Reds will host the Pirates for Opening Day. As the oldest franchise in professional baseball, and usually given the privilege of opening at home, the Reds do Opening Day traditions like no other city.
A pair of younger pitchers are getting the chance to be part of those traditions for the first time. Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller is slated to start against Cincinnati’s Hunter Greene.
RHP Mitch Keller
Previous Opening Day starts: 0
2022 season: 31 games (29 starts), 5-12, 3.91 ERA, 159 innings, 138 K, 60 BB, 14 HR, 1.40 WHIP
At this point last year, Keller was in a completely different headspace.
Entering 2022, Keller had been unable to find consistent success at the Major League level. Keller, a second-round selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, teased his potential during his first three Major League seasons but had yet to put together a complete season. Last year, Keller finally pieced things together.
With a trip to the Tread Athletics pitching development facility, Keller rediscovered his velocity and comfortably sat in the mid-90s. As the season progressed, Keller not only added a sinker, but also a sweeper.
Keller struggled for the first two months and made two appearances out of the bullpen in mid-May. From June onward, however, he had a 3.20 ERA and 3.59 FIP across 115 1/3 innings. Keller, at long last, had arrived.
The uptick in velocity and introduction of a sinker and sweeper were invaluable, but Keller’s biggest area of growth came on the mental front. Keller noted on numerous occasions that he struggled to navigate tough situations during his first couple seasons in the Majors. Last year, however, he embraced challenges with a newfound confidence.
The 26-year-old Keller has continued adding to his repertoire this spring with the inclusion of a cutter and gyro slider, giving him seven pitch options.
RHP Hunter Greene
Previous Opening Day starts: 0
2022 season: 24 starts, 5-13, 4.44 ERA, 125 2/3 innings, 164 K, 48 BB, 24 HR, 1.21 WHIP
More comfortable after an up-and-down 2022 rookie season, Greene is ready to establish himself as a complete and more polished pitcher in his second year as a big leaguer.
Greene’s reputation for triple-digit velocity preceded him, going back to when he was the No. 2 overall selection out of high school in the 2017 MLB Draft. He showed that electricity often last season, including five starts where he threw at least 34 pitches at more than 100 mph (the most since pitch tracking began in 2008).
But velocity doesn't really excite the 23-year-old. During the latter portion of last season and throughout the past offseason, Greene has been developing his secondary pitches -- the slider and changeup -- while improving the location of his fastball. This spring, he has gotten more swings and misses with his slider.
The home run hurt Greene often in 2022, especially in the first half. He allowed 23 of his 24 homers over his first 18 starts. Following a six-week stint on the injured list with a right shoulder strain, he returned and was dominant over his final four starts, posting a 0.78 ERA and allowing no more than four hits in each outing.
Pittsburgh has witnessed what Greene can do when in peak form. He posted a 0.68 ERA vs. the Pirates and held them to a .091 batting average. On May 15 at PNC Park, Greene threw 7 1/3 innings of the Reds’ eight innings of no-hit baseball. The Pirates came away with a 1-0 victory, thanks to three walks and an RBI groundout in the bottom of the eighth.