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Keller allowed two hits in the outing, and, for the second time in three starts, struck out 10 batters without issuing a walk, throwing 51 of his 71 pitches for strikes. The right-hander has not allowed a run in his first 15 innings, during which he's posted a 0.47 WHIP with 23 strikeouts.
"I think it's just a tribute to the catcher and the teammates behind me making plays, working hard throughout the week leading up to each start," Keller told MiLB.com. "It goes back to our game plan to begin the day -- attack with the fastball, first-pitch strikes, get out in three pitches or less. The goal is to limit three-ball counts and it's really helped in not walking guys."
Keller, a second-round Draft pick in 2014 out of the Iowa high school ranks, missed most of '15 with a forearm strain before finally making his season debut in late August. He struggled over six starts in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, going 0-3 with a 5.49 ERA, 2.08 WHIP and 25/16 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings.
But Keller started to make strides during fall instructional league and carried it over into spring training, when he drew raves from Pirates officials for his stuff and improved approach.
"With high school arms, it's usually that second year when you start to see some bigger gains in physicality, quality of stuff and ability to throw strikes. He came into camp in the best shape of his life, and it's really helped to improve the consistency of his delivery. He's been up to 95 mph, and it's smooth, easy gas," Pirates director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway told MLBPipeline.com in March.
Needless to say, that progress has helped Keller immensely this year in his full-season debut.
The 20-year-old righty was dominant in his West Virginia debut on April 11, fanning 10 while allowing one hit in five scoreless innings against a talented Greenville lineup. He then fired five more blank frames in his home debut against Lexington on April 16, allowing four hits and striking out three, before returning to his 10-strikeout ways in a rematch against Lexington.
Improved command and control has been the difference this season for Keller, who has yet to issue a walk after averaging 5.6 walks per nine innings during his first two seasons in Rookie ball. He's also getting a lot of swings and misses in the zone, as 20 of his 51 strikes against Lexington came on whiffs.
With Friday's outing, Keller leads the South Atlantic League in both ERA and WHIP and ranks second in strikeouts.