Keller finds lack of consistency 'frustrating'

Royals righty labors in 5-run 1st; Lopez makes mound debut to aid bullpen

August 14th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- Brad Keller needed 34 pitches to get just the first out on Saturday night, and by then, he had allowed five runs against the Dodgers in a game that got out of hand for the Royals before they got a chance to bat.

By the end of Keller’s start, which lasted only three innings and 74 pitches, he had yielded eight runs on nine hits and three walks to mark the Royals’ 13-3 loss to the Dodgers at Kauffman Stadium as one to forget.

Keller seemed off from the first pitch, when he yanked a fastball down and away from leadoff hitter Mookie Betts. Four pitches later, Betts was jogging around the bases after the fastball he crushed landed in the fountains for a home run.

“I just felt like they were waiting for the heater,” Keller said. “And when I left them over the plate, they did damage.”

Trea Turner blistered a sinker 109 mph into right field, and Keller walked the next two batters to load the bases with no outs. Unlike Royals starters Zack Greinke and Daniel Lynch in the same situation on Thursday and Friday, respectively, Keller did not get out of the jam as he allowed three consecutive singles.

Keller finally got out of it with Brent Rooker turning a sweet double play, but not before going through the entire Dodgers lineup and being pushed to 38 pitches in the opening inning.

“I don’t know how we get through the game if we can’t get him through that first inning,” manager Mike Matheny said. “That’s as far as we’ve pushed anybody.”

The Royals’ pitching staff was short-handed due to unavailable relievers and needed a longer start than Keller gave the club. Carlos Hernández pitched three innings -- flashing 100 mph consistently even while giving up three runs -- and Wyatt Mills gave two more innings before shortstop Nicky Lopez made his professional pitching debut in the ninth.

“I do hate putting our position players in there, but he had agreed to go nice and easy,” Matheny said. “Unfortunately that turned into a couple home runs, but he saved some guys.”

Lopez allowed back-to-back jacks as part of the Dodgers’ six-homer night. Lopez was the second Royals position player to pitch in a game this year, following Michael A. Taylor on July 9. Taylor experienced soreness in his right arm following that outing, so the Royals didn’t want Lopez throwing hard at all.

“In the back of my mind, I was thinking, ‘Hey, I might let a couple loose,’ but I stuck to my knuckleballs instead,” Lopez said. “I was just trying to throw strikes and help the team because if it allows us not to burn another pitcher, that’s what I want to do.”

After the first, Keller shied away from his fastball and relied more on his slider and changeup. He allowed another homer in the second on a slider that backed up on Will Smith and one more to Gavin Lux in the third on a changeup over the middle of the plate, but otherwise, Keller was able to be a little more effective than he was in the first.

Keller’s uneven 2022 season has been perplexing, as he’s been unable to find consistency in his outings. The right-hander leads the Royals with 11 quality starts, but he has a 4.93 ERA.

“It’s frustrating,” Keller said. “The model of this game is consistency. Being inconsistent right now is really frustrating. Having one good one, one bad one follow it. I’ve kind of been pinballing back and forth. I need to level the ship and focus on the next one, and finish the season strong.”

What’s perhaps the toughest for the Royals is the timing. They had gained some momentum in the past week with an influx of rookies and solid starting pitching -- the rotation entered Saturday with a 1.26 ERA dating to last Sunday.

But in front of the largest announced crowd of the season of 29,689 at The K for the annual Salute to the Negro Leagues game, the Royals played a clunker as the Dodgers cruised to their 12th consecutive win, the franchise’s longest streak since 1976.

“Brad’s done a nice job of having a game similar to this and then getting right back at it and getting better,” Matheny said. “That’s what we’re going to need him to do. … It’s back to work. Let’s get locked back in, figure out the feel on his fastball, and everything else will fall into place.”