MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Pirates' Keller fires five strong frames for Glendale

Pirates' Keller fires five strong frames for Glendale

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Nearly two weeks ago, a pair of the Arizona Fall League's top right-handers squared off against each other. On Oct. 17, it was the Yankees' Albert Abreu who out-pitched the Pirates' Mitch Keller with five shutout innings. In a rematch on Monday, Keller made sure he evened up the score.

Keller, Pittsburgh's No. 2 prospect and No. 18 overall, put up five zeros of his own to help the Glendale Desert Dogs beat Abreu and the Scottsdale Scorpions, 3-2. "It's definitely something you think about, them being able to keep us off the board," Keller said about facing Abreu again. "It's going to be a really close game all the way. It adds a little into it."

Gameday

Keller only allowed one hit over his five nearly perfect innings. The one hit, a single by Mets outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski, was erased when Keller's batterymate, Will Smith of the Dodgers, threw out Kaczmarski trying to steal. That allowed Keller to face the minimum, and he threw just 49 pitches to do it.

The right-hander only struck out two on the day and wasn't throwing as hard as he has in previous AFL outings, settling in at 91-94 mph with his fastball. The key to his success on Monday was effectively mixing in his breaking ball and his changeup. The Scorpions didn't have too many comfortable swings and Keller induced eight groundball outs from the Scottsdale lineup.

"The offspeed was working really well," Keller said. "That was kind of a main point, using it early and often for practice to be able to use it when I need it behind in counts, ahead, 0-0, whenever. It's probably the most comfortable I felt with my changeup all fall.

"Being able to throw that for strikes really lets you go deep into games and keeps them uncomfortable. I've noticed a lot of weak contact with it, too."

Keller on pitching approach

Abreu was also impressive for the first few innings. The Yankees' No. 7 prospect matched Keller with three hitless innings, though he did allow three walks, none of which made it into scoring position. Effectively using a 92-96 mph fastball to go along with a solid breaking ball and changeup, Abreu fanned four through those three frames.

But he ran into trouble in the fourth. Dodgers third baseman Matt Beaty broke up Abreu's early no-hitter with a leadoff double to right field. Abreu got Indians No. 3 prospect Bobby Bradley to strike out and Dodgers No. 5 Yusniel Diaz to ground out before getting Phillies No. 12 Cornelius Randolph down 1-2 in the count, but the outfielder was able to turn and drill a double to bring in Beaty with the first run of the game.

Abreu then fell behind Smith, 3-1, and the Dodgers' No. 8 prospect made him pay, launching ball over the bullpen in left field for his first AFL home run. It gave Glendale a 3-0 lead and helped allow an appreciative Keller to pick up his second win this fall.

"He's an amazing catcher," Keller said. "It's the first time he's caught me this fall and I really liked it. He receives it really well, gave me a few strikes here and there and loved that. He hits it a little bit, too. There's not much you can knock on him. He's awesome."

The Scorpions did push a run across in the sixth when Mets No. 9 Tomas Nido brought Angels No. 20 Troy Montgomery home on a sacrifice fly. They pulled to within a run in the ninth when Thairo Estrada (Yankees' No. 17) reached on a Diaz error in right field and Angels No. 3 Matt Thaiss doubled him in with his second double of the game. But Pirates lefty Brandon Waddell was able to get Kaczmarski to ground out to save the game for his organization-mate.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.