Kansas City Royals move Brad Keller from the starting rotation to the bullpen

·3 min read
Colin E. Braley/AP

Kansas City Royals pitcher Brad Keller, a two-time Opening Day starter and this season’s leader in games started and innings pitched, has been moved to the bullpen.

Keller, 27, had been scheduled to start Thursday’s series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays in Florida. Instead, Keller was in the bullpen for Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against the Minnesota Twins.

Royals manager Mike Matheny announced the club’s decision prior to Wednesday’s game. Matheny did not announce a starter for Thursday. A roster move will likely be made before Thursday night’s game.

“We believe this is something that will be good for our club, kind of assessing our team and where we are and what we have,” Matheny said. “Something good for Brad, hopefully an opportunity for him to really shine and thrive.”

Matheny said they had not “committed” to the move long-term at this point, but are looking at the next few weeks as a chance to “take a look.”

“The conversation has happened in the past,” Matheny said. “Many of you probably remember when Brad came up, how dominant he could look in the pen. So it has always been part of the conversation. You’d hate to go into the offseason wondering without actually taking a look.

“Right now as we have some other young starters that are going to be able to step in and fill that spot, what does it look like? How might that potentially be something that is a great fit for Brad and our club?”

Jonathan Heasley, who made 13 starts for the Royals this season, pitched for Triple-A Omaha on Tuesday night. Angel Zerpa, who made two starts (three appearances) for the Royals this season, is on the injured list with a knee injury.

The Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers’ starting rotation currently includes right-hander Max Castillo, left-hander Drew Parrish, left-hander Austin Cox and right-hander Jackson Kowar. Of that group, Kowar was the only one on the 40-man roster as of Wednesday.

Keller, who has one arbitration-eligible season remaining before he can become a free agent after the 2023 season, has been the workhorse of the Royals’ starting rotation in recent years.

A former Rule 5 Draft pick who began his career in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, Keller pitched out of the bullpen for the Royals when he first broke into the majors in 2018. He moved to the rotation later that season and started the season opener in 2019.

In 126 games (105 starts) in the majors, Keller has gone 35-48 with a 4.19 ERA, a 1.395 WHIP, 6.7 strikeouts per 9 innings, 456 strikeouts, 248 walks and an opponent’s batting average of .260 in 616 1/3 innings.

As a starter, Keller has gone 34-47 with a 4.27 ERA, a 1.407 WHIP, 6.7 strikeouts per 9 innings, a 1.84-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .262 opponent’s batting average.

In 21 relief appearances (all as a rookie), he has posted a 2.01 ERA with a 1.075 WHIP, 5.2 strikeouts per 9 innings, a 1.86-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .207 opponent’s batting average.

“Brad was completely professional about it,” Matheny said. “I think, as most starters, they want to start. So we get it. His first response was just tell me whatever I need to do for the team. That’s exactly what you hope to hear. It’s going to have to marinate a little while with him. We’ll continue to have conversations.

“I know those aren’t easy decisions and they’re not easy things to hear. We’ll keep talking with him. Hopefully, like I said, this will be something that benefits both the Royals and Brad Keller.”