Pittsburgh Pirates: Mitch Keller Impresses in Grapefruit Opener & More

Pittsburgh Pirates Photo Day
Pittsburgh Pirates Photo Day / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

Mitch Keller went 2 scoreless, Rodolfo Castro hit a grand slam, and more from the Pittsburgh Pirates Grapefruit League opener on Saturday

Saturday afternoon the Pittsburgh Pirates welcomed the Toronto Blue Jays to LECOM Park to kick off their 2023 Grapefruit League schedule. In a potential Opening Day preview, Mitch Keller got the nod in the opener for the Pirates and he already looked ready for Opening Day.

Keller pitched 2 scoreless innings against the Blue Jays. The only hit that Keller allowed was a weakly hit blooper that just fell out of the reach of second baseman Ji-Hwan Bae. Keller then quickly cleaned that up by inducing a 5-4-3 double play ball off the bat of American League MVP candidate Vlad Guerrero Jr.

Keller struck out a pair and did not issue a walk in his 2 innings pitched. His fastball touched 97 MPH, and all of his pitches looked really, REALLY good. He worked quickly with good rhythm, looked in command on the mound, and dominated batters.

Other Notable Performances

Although the Pirates lost 9-7, there were some other notable performances in addition to Keller. One of those was the performance of Rodolfo Castro. Competing for the second base job, and the likely frontrunner, Castro got the start at third base. He swatted a 3rd inning grand slam as part of his 1-for-3 performance. It would not be a surprise to see Castro get to 20 home runs this season.

Liover Peguero relieved Oneil Cruz at shortstop and had two strong at-bats. The middle infield prospect was 2-for-2 with a pair of RBI. If Peguero can develop into a quality utility infielder, perhaps a Josh Harrison type role, that would be a win for the Pirate organization.

Carlos Santana started at first base and went 1-for-2 with a walk. Henry Davis hit a sacrifice fly, and, shocker, was hit by a pitch in two trips to the plate. Connor Joe walked twice and had a heads up base running play. Quietly, Joe will be a strong addition to this roster.

Bullpen Struggles

Roansy Contreras took over after Keller's day ended. Obviously, Contreras will not pitch out of the bullpen this season but will be looked upon to anchor the rotation with Keller. While Contreras allowed a run in his lone inning of work, it came after a bad luck triple that was followed by a sacrifice fly.

After Contreras, things got hairy.

2022 All-Star David Bednar allowed 3 runs on a pair of home runs, he allowed just 4 home runs all of last season. After free agent addition Jarlín García allowed 2 runs on a home run, he also struck out a pair, in the 5th inning, Chase De Jong pitched a scoreless 6th inning.

Duane Underwood Jr. got the ball in the 7th inning and struggled. Underwood Jr. allowed 3 runs on 4 hits while striking a batter out. If Underwood Jr. struggles this spring he could find himself on the outside looking in when it comes to the team's Opening Day bullpen.

It was just one game. It was also the Grapefruit League where pitcher's results can easily be thrown out the window for a variety of reasons, but seeign the Pirate bullpen struggle was still a concern. The bullpen is the team's biggest question mark entering the season and it could be one of the worst in the National League. So, relievers struggling is the last thing anyone wants to see this spring.

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