The Pittsburgh Pirates signed right-hander Mitch Keller to a one-year contract in the offseason.
It's a decision that could prove financially costly for the team.
Keller (5-1, 2.44 ERA) is scheduled to make his 11th start of the season Friday night when the Pirates open a three-game interleague series at the Seattle Mariners.
Nearly one-third of the way through the season, Keller, 27, is being mentioned as a Cy Young Award contender in the National League. He's striking out an average of 11.1 batters per nine innings and has walked just 14 in 62 2/3 innings.
"This is the same guy who, two years ago, people wanted to know why he was in the rotation and what we were doing," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "It's the prototypical story of a prospect who comes to the big leagues and the big leagues is hard. You have to adjust. You have to get better."
Keller, a second-round draft pick in 2014, has done that after having an ERA in excess of 6.00 in both 2019 and 2021. He went 5-12 with a 3.91 ERA last season.
The Pirates reportedly have made recent overtures to Keller regarding a longer-term deal.
"When we come to the ballpark every day, we're not thinking about contracts first and foremost," Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said. "We're thinking about how we can get better. That's going to continue to be the way it goes. Whenever it makes sense to talk about a contract with anybody, then, great, we'll do that. But they're sort of two different things."
Cherington said Keller has made strides.
"If you want to look at some of the metrics, those have changed, too, so it's not fake what he's doing," Cherington said. "He's made real, real improvement, and it's exciting to see. It's exciting for him. It's exciting for our team.
"It's a great story about what improvement can be possible when a talented pitcher in this case really makes the decision to do the training and make the changes that he has, and it's been fun to watch."
The Pirates, who had Thursday off, will attempt to snap a two-game skid when they travel to the Pacific Northwest. They have lost four of their past five.
The Mariners are coming off a four-game sweep of the lowly Oakland Athletics. Ty France hit two solo homers and scored the go-ahead run on a bases-loaded walk to Eugenio Suarez with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 3-2 victory Thursday night.
France had missed the previous game after being hit by a pitch on the left hand in the eighth inning Tuesday.
"I think Ty's hand is OK," Mariners manager Scott Servais said with a smile. "I know there was some concern maybe we shouldn't play him (Thursday)."
Mariners right-hander George Kirby (5-3, 2.62) will attempt to extend his streak of eight straight quality starts. The only time Kirby failed to go at least six innings and allow three or fewer earned runs was his first start of the season.
Kirby, who will face the Pirates for the first time, suffered a 3-2 loss Sunday at Atlanta despite allowing six hits over seven innings, with one walk and six strikeouts.
Keller is 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA in one previous start against Seattle. He didn't get a decision in a 4-3 loss Saturday against visiting Arizona in which he went six innings and gave up two runs on three hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts.
--Field Level Media