KANSAS CITY -- After contracting COVID-19 and missing much of the early 2020 season, Royals right-hander Brad Keller didn’t get a chance to start the season opener, the home opener or even reclaim his title as staff ace.
Keller is making his case now as that ace.
Keller dominated the Reds on Wednesday in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium, throwing 6 2/3 innings of three-hit ball in a 4-0 victory. Trevor Rosenthal got the final out for his sixth save.
Keller, 25, now has thrown 17 2/3 straight scoreless innings to open the season. The club record for scoreless innings to start a season is held by Zack Greinke, who opened 2009 [his Cy Young year with the Royals] with 24.
Danny Jackson has the second-longest streak as a Royals starter to open the season -- Jackson opened 1985 with 18 straight. Wade Davis, as a reliever, opened 2015 with 22 straight scoreless innings.
While much of the talk about the Royals’ future has focused on rookie hurlers such as Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, Keller sometimes gets overlooked, though he is young, too.
“We do forget how young he is,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “He was the one who took the ball for that first game [in 2019] as a badge of honor. And he leads by example. It’s fun to watch a guy thrive in these situations.
“He wants to be the guy on the mound. He wants to be the one to set the tone. Hopefully it just keeps creating that healthy competition. ... That was some kind of display of quality pitching.”
Keller didn’t allow a hit until the sixth, when Tucker Barnhart led off with a soft liner [83 mph per Statcast] that fell safely in front of center fielder Whit Merrifield. Keller said he was unaware he hadn’t allowed a hit until then.
“I honestly didn’t,” he said. “I was so locked into the game, hoping we’d get more runs. It was nice to have those runs. I didn’t really know about not giving up a hit.”
Keller is aware of his scoreless-innings streak.
“Well, I mean, yeah,” he said, smiling. “I am aware of that. I try not to put too much thought into it.”
Keller walked three and struck out five. He threw 95 pitches, 57 for strikes. His money pitch was the slider -- out of 32 sliders, he got 12 called strikes or whiffs, and seven balls were put in play that were outs.
“Honestly, my slider was pretty good today,” Keller said. “I was able to locate it to the back door of all those lefties. The whole lineup was lefties. To have that pitch to get some swings, and steal some strikes, was huge.”
The Royals provided all the support Keller needed in the first inning off right-hander Luis Castillo. With runners on first and second and one out, slumping Jorge Soler connected for an RBI double into the left-field corner.
Ryan O’Hearn snapped an 0-for-10 streak with a two-run single to center, and the Royals led, 3-0.