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Royals RHP Keller makes long-awaited 2020 debut

When Kansas City Royals right-hander Brad Keller steps on the rubber Thursday against the visiting Chicago Cubs, it will have been 347 days since he last had the ball in a game that counts.

“I’m super anxious get out there and compete,” Keller said as he prepared for his 2020 debut. “It was tough last year watching the last month from the bench. With the extended break, especially getting COVID, it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been out there. I’m super eager to get out there.”

Keller last pitched against the Oakland A’s on Aug. 26, 2019, before being shut down because he had reached his innings limit for the season. He was expected to be the Royals’ Opening Day starter for the second consecutive year before COVID-19 shut down spring training. Then Keller tested positive for the virus during the summer training camp and wasn’t ready for action when the season started.

After building up his strength, he will make his 2020 debut for a team that desperately needs him.

“(Brad is) a big piece (of the rotation),” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “You’re talking about a guy who started the first game for you last year. It just shows what this team thinks of Brad and how much he means to us. He’s going to be a big piece moving forward.”

Keller set career high in starts (28), innings (165 1/3), strikeouts (122) and losses (14) in 2019 but came two wins short of matching his rookie total of nine in 2018. He faced the Cubs once before, giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks with four strikeouts over six innings of a 5-0 loss in August 2018.

In just his third year, Keller is one of the veterans for the Royals, who Wednesday had their fourth start made by a pitcher with no major league experience prior to 2020. Kris Bubic took the loss Wednesday as the Cubs won 6-1.

The Royals have dropped six straight ahead of the finale of a four-game home-and-home series Thursday against the Chicago Cubs, who have won six in a row.

Chicago’s Thursday starter, Tyler Chatwood (2-0, 0.71 ERA), has opened the season in fine form. In his latest start, he threw 6 2/3 shutout innings and tied his career high with 11 strikeouts in a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday. A nine-year veteran, he seems to have found a secret with a cutter that he started to perfect last season. It complements his sinker very well.

“When you’re lane-changing, or tunneling, as it’s called now — that sinker off that cutter — you saw those hitters off-balance a lot, not knowing which lane to choose,” Cubs manager David Ross said after Chatwood’s first start, when the right-hander limited the Milwaukee Brewers to one run on three hits in six innings.

Chatwood will be facing the Royals for the fourth time in his career (third career start), and he is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA vs. Kansas City. He has no decisions and a 3.86 ERA in two games (one start) at Kauffman Stadium.

–Field Level Media

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