Keller moves to bullpen to 'take a look' at new role

August 18th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- With 11 rookies on the roster, and as many as seven in the lineup on a given day, the Royals are clearly getting a look at what their roster might look like in the future.

Manager Mike Matheny announced Tuesday that the look will include former Opening Day starter Brad Keller in the bullpen. Keller, who is 6-13 with a 4.93 ERA in 22 starts this season, was in the bullpen for the finale of the three-game series Wednesday in Minnesota.

“We believe this is something that will be good for our club, kind of assessing our team and where we are, and what we have,” Matheny said. “Something good for Brad, hopefully an opportunity for him to really shine, thrive and we believe this will be good for our club.”

The Royals pegged right-hander Max Castillo, who they received from the Blue Jays in exchange for Whit Merrifield at the Trade Deadline, for Thursday’s start against the Rays.

For now, Keller, who leads the American League in losses, will join the bullpen.

“Obviously, I would love to start,” Keller said before the series opener at Tropicana Field. “But if my time to be in the bullpen is now and that’s going to help the team win, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

Keller started Opening Day for the Royals in 2021, and would have done the same in 2020 but came down with COVID-19 shortly beforehand. Veteran Zack Greinke started Opening Day this season in his return to the team, and Keller started the season’s second game.

He’s been a full-time starter over the past four seasons, starting 85 games during that stretch and establishing himself as one of the workhorses of the Kansas City rotation.

“Brad was completely professional about it,” Matheny said. “As most starters, they want to start. So, we get it. His first response is, ‘Tell me whatever I need to do for the team.’ That’s exactly what you hope to hear.

"It’s going to have to marinate a little while with him, and we’ll continue to have conversations. I know those aren’t easy. They’re not easy decisions and they’re not easy things to hear. So, we’ll keep talking with him and hopefully, like I said, this will be something that benefits both the Royals and Brad Keller.”

Matheny said there have been conversations in the organization in the past about moving Keller to the bullpen. Keller broke into the Majors in 2018 as a reliever, pitching in 21 games with a 2.01 ERA before moving to the rotation and starting 20 games as a rookie.

“It’s an opportunity for us to take a look,” Matheny said. “Many of you probably remember when Brad came up and how dominant he could look in the 'pen. So, it’s always been part of the conversation. Hate to go into the offseason wondering without actually taking a look.

"So right now, as we have some other young starters that are going to be able to step in and fill that spot, what does it look like and how might that potentially be something that is a great for Brad and for our club?”

Keller echoed that sentiment, saying he was interested in seeing how his stuff and aggressiveness plays up in the bullpen.

“Really the mentality I took in the ‘pen last time was just don’t think about [my delivery] or anything,” Keller said. “Go out there and do what I had to do to execute, to get guys out. Go after guys. Maybe that’s the mentality I need. It helped me when I did go into the rotation, to carry that into the rotation. That’s why I had pretty good success whenever I got into the rotation. But getting back into that mentality, I’m excited to see how that goes.”