We kind of knew that Danny Duffy was going to be at least passable, given that he has been good for several years and is still more than capable of sterling performances. And Jakob Junis showed enough flashes late last year that his early-season success hasn’t come as a total shock.
But Brad Keller? Now Brad Keller has been a bit of a revelation.
In December, Keller was a Reds Rule 5 pick only to be dealt to Kansas City a few minutes later. He was solid albeit unspectacular in spring training, striking out 14 in 10 innings in Arizona, but made no starts in his eight appearances. After acting largely as a starter in the minors, he was shunted into the bullpen for much of the early part of his Royals career, and performed admirably in that role. However, he hadn’t been an above-average starter for his level since his age-19 season in Kane County; he’d posted a 4.47 ERA in A-Advanced Visalia in the California League (no shame in a definitive hitters league) and a 4.68 in Double-A Jackson (less great).
But as he continues to get stretched out, it seems like he’s getting stronger with each start, working later and more effectively. Sunday was no different, as Keller went 5.1 innings to put the Royals in prime position to steal a split on the road against the A’s.
They didn’t, but that’s not the point here. The point is that Keller pitched well enough to win, and when you’re 22-44, it’s really more the spirit of the matter that takes precedent.
The Royals could’ve put up a run in the first inning, but they didn’t because they’re the Royals. First baseman (not a typo) Mike Moustakas stroked a one-out single, while Salvador Perez reached on a Stephen Piscotty error in right (the sun played hell all day with fly balls).
Then Hunter Dozier struck out and Paulo Orlando flew out and that was that.
The A’s took advantage with a two-run second inning. Matt Chapman led off with a walk, moving to third on Mark Canha’s double. Piscotty grounded out to third, but the ball was hit so softly that Ramon Torres’ only play was to first, scoring Chapman, while Canha came around to score three pitches later on a Jonathan Lucroy single. Things were looking a little bleak for Keller, who then surrendered a single to Chad Pinder and walked Marcus Semien to load the bases with two away. But Keller got Khris Davis on strikes to neutralize the threat and limit the damage to two runs.
A one-out Whit Merrifield double sparked the Royals in the top of the third. Moustakas’ ground out moved Whit to third, and then a wild pitch got away from Lucroy to score Merrifield on the first offering from Sean Manaea to Salvador Perez.
Manaea’s second pitch to Salvy was middle-out and Perez crushed it into the left field seats to tie the game at two.
Keller induced two double-play balls in the third and fourth innings; after Matt Olson led off the third with a walk, Chapman grounded into a double play, while Piscotty led off the next inning with a single, followed by Lucroy’s 4-3 double play. Defense certainly helped Keller on this day, even with Moustakas making just his second career appearance at first base.
Fast-forward to the sixth, which is where Keller hit Olson, the lead-off batter, induced a Chapman flyout and walked Canha. Keller departed; Scott Barlow got Piscotty to lineout to Dozier in right, walked Lucroy to load the bases and then got Pinder to fly out to Paulo in center. Just like Keller, Barlow and Ned Yost wrote it up.
Merrifield’s 20th double of the season led off the eighth, but also didn’t matter. Chapman led off the bottom of the eighth with a homer off Jason Adam, which very much did. Alex Gordon hit a one-out double in the ninth, but with Alcides Escobar and Drew Butera hitting behind him (and curiously, Ryan Goins pinch-hitting for Orlando in front of him), what do you suppose happened?
The Bright Spot: Keller, who scattered five hits, walking four and striking out four and surrendering just the two runs. He wasn’t equal to Manaea (7.1 innings, six hits, two runs, six strikeouts), but nobody’s perfect.
The Nadir: The scene: leading off the ninth inning of a one-run game, Orlando clearly isn’t going to cut it (neither are Escobar two batters later, nor Butera right after that, but that’s a whole ‘nother barrel of pickles). You have a perfectly good Jorge Soler on the bench; WHY HAVE HIM IF THAT’S NOT A SPOT TO PINCH HIT HIM IN????
The Next Step: Sal Romano and Ian Kennedy have a “Who’s having the worst season?” contest to kick off the series between the Royals and Reds at Kauffman Stadium, 7:15 p.m. (CT), Tuesday. My money is on Kennedy, personally.