Starting rotation's big horses step up
If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to surprise people and contend this season Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras will need to be two catalysts. The Pirates need both of them to take the next step in their development as they look to build upon strong 2023 seasons. The Pirates need these two to step up as the horses of the starting rotation, and in this series they did just that.
Contreras took the ball for his first start of the season on Tuesday night and was terrific. He pitched 5.2 innings, allowing a run on three hits, a walk, and two strikeouts. After allowing the first two batters of the game to reach base Contreras put a foot down and dominated.
There are few starting pitchers in the National League with a greater breakout potential this season than Contreras. He pairs a plus fastball with a curveball/slider combination that can be elite. Hopefully, Tuesday night's outing was the first step toward Contreras putting together that breakout campaign.
Wednesday afternoon's series finale saw Keller turn in one of the most impressive starts of his MLB career. He held the high-powered Red Sox to just 1 run on four hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts in 7 innings pitched.
With multiple relievers unavailable Shelton needed Keller to go deep into the game, Keller stepped up and did just that. He was in total control of the Red Sox throughout the start. He generated 10 swings-and-misses and limited hard contact throughout the start.
Most impressively, Keller put a foot on Boston's throat in the 7th inning. Shelton put faith in Keller allowing him the opportunity to try and finish the 7th inning despite a run being in with two runners on base. Pinch-hitter Reese McGuire hit a ball that originally was ruled a 3-run, game-tying home run. Unfortunately for McGuire, the ball jerked too far to the right of pesky pole and was a foul ball. The umpries quickly overturned the call and Keller responded by stirking out McGuire looking to end the inning.
Keller and Contreras are at two very different places in their development as MLB starting pitchers. However, both have the tools to help anchor a rotation. They could develop into one of the most underrated one-two punches in the majors. In this series they both pitched that way.