Mitch Keller is turning back the clock.
Keller is displaying his best stretch of outings in the Major Leagues, displaying the ability to put away hitters similar to his success throughout the Minor Leagues.
But the reasoning is partly why time is no longer ticking as fast for the former top prospect to put everything together.
Keller, 26, struggled mightily against the Cincinnati Reds on May 13, allowing five runs on back-to-back starts and being sent to the bullpen.
He allowed one run in each of his relief appearances against the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies, totaling six innings, before receiving another chance to prove his worth in the rotation.
Keller hasn’t looked back.
The right-hander has allowed nine runs in 27.1 innings through four June starts and on May 31 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
How? Keller has moved forward with an entirely new weapon: the sinker.
Prior to May, Keller had never thrown a sinker against opposing hitters. It’s since become Keller’s most-used pitch in his repertoire.
Keller’s sinker skyrocketed the pitch from a usage rate of 11.7 percent in May, when he was first introducing it, to 37.4 percent since.
Mitch Keller, Sinkers. pic.twitter.com/WWONh0NshF— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 1, 2022
In June alone, Keller has found confidence in the pitch, throwing it 60 more times than the next closest offering.
In his fourth MLB season, Keller has depended less on his fastball. Instead of throwing it 54.6 percent of the time in April, he has almost abandoned the pitch from consistent usage. 17.9 percent of pitches now are four-seam fastballs, the lowest rate of his career by a long shot.
Keller’s current stats might not look appealing, 2-5 with a 4.77 ERA, 27 walks, and 55 strikeouts in 66 total innings, but the progress is evident in the last five starts.
Confidence is a major factor for Keller moving forward. A close friend of Cole Tucker, who was designated for assignment earlier this year due to poor performance, Keller did not want to live out a similar fate.
His opposing batting average against and WHIP have substantially decreased from .260 and 1.50 in May to .226 and 1.16 in June.
Keller completed at least five innings against the Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, and Tampa Bay Rays, not allowing more than three runs in any start.
The groundball pitch, made famous to some Pittsburgh Pirates observers due to the success of Ray Searage from 2013 to 2015, has helped guide more weak contact and fewer home runs against top competition.
Keller has bought himself additional time to establish himself as a Major League caliber starter and, more importantly, one that can thrive in Pittsburgh. The new pitch might have saved his career in the Steel City.
The clock has stopped a potential pivot in a different direction from Keller, with the movement of his sinker throwing hitters off and helping to set Keller up for some consistency.