By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – Mitch Keller put two games together at the end of the 2017 season that pitchers only dream about.
In Game 1 of the Western Division playoffs at Bowie, Keller threw 90 pitches and faced the minimum 27 batters in a nine-inning, complete game shutout over the Baysox, giving up only one hit and two walks while striking out four.
The Altoona right-hander followed that performance by pitching the Eastern League championship-clinching Game 3, a 4-2 victory over Trenton at Peoples Natural Gas Field. He allowed two runs and four hits over 7.1 innings while fanning eight and walking one.
Those two games earned Keller the EL’s post-season most valuable player award.
“The first game (at Bowie) was rained out and I was really anxious for it,” he said. “It was an unbelievable game and series because no one expected us to sweep Bowie or the whole thing, but we knew we could do it.”
The title-clinching game was outstanding as well.
“We didn’t have the biggest crowd but they were loudest of the season,” Keller noted. “To cap off the sweep … we had some really big plays from Jin-De Jhang that really solidified … put us ahead to win it.”
Curve manager Michael Ryan is happy to have Keller in his dugout.
“The last two times I had (Keller) he came for one start then went right into the post-season,” Ryan noted. “To be able to watch him through all spring training and the beginning of this season there are things you see – the work ethic, how he is in the clubhouse from a leadership standpoint, how guys look up to him, how he takes pride in who he is and who is going to become.
“It’s been a lot of fun to watch off the field,” Ryan continued, “while, on the field, it’s the same Mitch Keller. He competes and tries to dominate. He’s doing a good job of mixing speeds and is developing his secondary pitches.”
Keller, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa native, also had a big moment during this past spring training in Bradenton, when he pitched a pair of scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox.
“That was a really cool experience,” he noted. “I was kind of nervous because it was my first time against a big-league team but I was able to show people what I could do.”
Keller pitched in West Virginia in 2016 and earned Pittsburgh’s minor league pitcher-of-the-year honors after compiling an 8-5 record and 2.46 ERA in 23 starts.
“Last year was awesome,” Keller said of 2017. “I started in the Florida State League (High Class A Bradenton) and did pretty well. I got hurt (back strain) and that was a new experience because I had never missed four weeks.
“Coming back from that, I got a rehab start in Morgantown (low Class A) and then got the call here,” he said. “Winning the championship was incredible and that’s our goal (to repeat) this year.”
As a youngster, Keller said he was a fan of the Anaheim Angels because the Angels’ low A team was in his hometown.
“I followed them a lot and Trout went through there,” he noted, “so I was a big fan when I was really young. They were fun to watch.”
Keller’s older brother, Jon, pitched in the Orioles’ organization for a few years and pitched at Bowie in from 2015-2017.
Ryan thinks Mitch Keller has what it takes to make the bigs.
“The higher he goes up, he’s not going to be able to blow the 96 and 97 (fastball) by hitters,” Ryan said. “To make him more effective, he’s got to own the changeup and continue to throw the slider in different counts and to different parts of the plate.
“Improving those secondary pitches is almost the finishing touches of him to get to the big leagues.”
The 20th Season of Altoona Curve Baseball, presented by Stuckey Subaru, is under way at Peoples Natural Gas Field. For tickets or more information, click here, call 877.99.CURVE or stop by the PNG Field box office.