BRADENTON, Fla. – “Stay out there.”
That’s the phrase that was heard after two of Mitch Keller’s innings today, as the top pitching prospect went three innings in an intrasquad game at Pirate City. Keller was quick and efficient, giving up just a run on two hits, and that damage came after he already got the third out of the inning. He got through the inning too quickly, and was kept out for more pitches and more outs in the second.
The same thing happened in the third inning. After getting two quick outs, Bradenton pitching coach Matt Ford told the other team that if Keller got the third out, they would put a man on second. Of course, Keller got that third out, and they had to put a man on second to get him some work from the stretch. He struck out the next guy on three pitches to end his day, then threw some more pitches in the bullpen, working from the stretch.
Keller ended up throwing 44 pitches on the day, with most of them being fastballs. However, he was focusing a lot on his changeup, throwing the pitch eight times on the day, or whenever it came up in a good game situation.
“I threw quite a bit of them,” Keller said. “Just trying to get them in a game-like situation to practice. Just getting more game reps with it, instead of just bullpen where it’s not the same intensity. I felt really good throwing it a lot more.”
Keller didn’t throw changeups to every hitter, but used the pitch a few times against certain guys, including back to back changeups against a lefty to start one at-bat. The pitch made a lot of improvements last year, with Keller getting a new grip that was comfortable for him, and that saw some good movement and reduced velocity.
“When I’m on with it, it’s pretty nasty,” Keller said. “I’ve just got to get consistent with that.”
Keller was sitting around 92-96 MPH with his fastball today, and the changeup was topping out at 87, giving some good separation. He got a lot of strikes with the pitch, and had his usual approach working of pounding the zone with the fastball and getting a lot of strikes with the pitch, including a lot of people swinging through the pitch. Keller’s next outing will be four innings, and that will likely be followed by two five inning outings before he’s ready for the season.
**Cam Vieaux, the 6th round pick last year, pitched three innings today. He had no issues in the first inning, getting a lot of easy contact and a few quick ground balls, including the two below. He ran into some problems later. Vieaux was only topping out at 90, and while he has a good approach of mixing up his pitches and showing good command, the Pirates have wanted to see more velocity. He’s worked in the low-90s in the past, so we’ll see if he can get back there once the season starts.
**I got to see Pedro Vasquez for the first time this spring, and for the second time since he was acquired in the Arquimedes Caminero trade. Vasquez was getting a lot of swings and misses, striking out five in three innings. He had a fastball that was 89-94 MPH, featuring some good downward movement. He was also able to throw his curveball and changeup for strikes.
**Austin Shields, the over-slot 33rd round prep pitcher last year, went one inning and dealt with some control problems. That’s not a big surprise, as Shields doesn’t have a lengthy baseball background. He does show some promise, getting his fastball up to 93 MPH with good downward movement when the pitch is on. As you can see in the video below, he dealt with some control problems, which will happen due to him being so raw.
**Tony Watson came over to camp and threw two no-hit innings, sitting 88-90 MPH with his fastball.
**Watson (2 innings), Brandon Waddell (3 innings), and Junior Lopez (1 inning) combined for six no-hit innings. The other side of the Indianapolis/Altoona game wasn’t as nice, with Clay Holmes giving up three runs in two innings, and JT Brubaker giving up two runs in 2.2 innings. I didn’t pay too much attention to this game, since my focus was mostly on Keller, Vasquez, Vieaux, and Shields.
**Kevin Kramer continues to hit the ball well, hitting a home run in the Indy/Altoona game. That’s at least the second home run he’s hit this week.