Keller shines, Pirates end 6-game skid, tag Davies, Cubs 8-2

Mark Alberti-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Mitch Keller‘s stuff has never been in question. It’s a lack of command that sometimes handcuff the pitcher the Pittsburgh Pirates view as one of the cornerstones of what they’re trying to build around.

The 25-year-old has been searching for it all spring, with little progress to show for all the work he was putting in on the side.

The search came to an end on Saturday night against Chicago. Working effectively up in the strike zone, Keller threw five efficient innings as the Pirates used an early burst to chase Zach Davies in an 8-2 win over the Cubs.

Keller (1-1) bounced back from a rocky 2021 debut by allowing one run on five hits with seven strikeouts and just one walk.

“I mean, had a rough spring, rough first outing,” Keller said. “So it felt really good to just kind of have a good one out there. Just all the hard work I put in just kind of finally paid off tonight and really excited to keep going after this one.”

Keller’s fastball can touch the high 90s. Locating it effectively, however, is another matter. He walked batters in 11 1/3 innings in spring training and issued four free passes in three innings in a loss to the Cubs last weekend.

Things went far better in his second go-round with Chicago. At one point he retired nine of 10 batters and threw 57 of his 80 pitches for strikes, a significant step in the right direction after he threw just 42 of 77 pitches for strikes while laboring through three innings against Chicago last Sunday.

“Just got to put a lot of work in and just get confidence through little things, like throwing program, bullpens, whatever it may be to just find that confidence and have it translate over into the game,” Keller said. “I was super confident out there tonight. I thought I did a pretty good job of not letting the first inning run get to me.”

Colin Moran, Bryan Reynolds and Jacob Stallings all drove in two runs during Pittsburgh’s seven-run outburst in the second against Davies (1-1). Phil Evans, with his brother Michael in the stands for the first time since Evans broke into the majors in 2017, added his team-high third home run.


Davies, acquired from San Diego in the trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Padres, gave up seven runs in just 1 2/3 innings, the shortest start of his seven-year career.

“Sometimes a game like this can motivate you. For me, tomorrow, the next day and every working day in between, that’s what I’ll think about,” he said.

Javy Baez had two of Chicago’s eight hits. Kris Bryant collected an RBI double in the first for the Cubs and Joc Pederson added an RBI single late but Chicago mustered little else against Keller and three relievers.


The Pirates held a moment of silence before the game to honor former usher Phil Coyne, who died on Friday at 102. Coyne spent more than 80 years helping fans to their seats at Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park before retiring in 2019.

“I mean working at Forbes Field, seeing Babe Ruth, that’s like living legend type stuff,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s kind of cool. My heart goes out to him and his family and want to thank him for everything he did for the Pirates for a long time.”


Cubs: First base coach Craig Driver is “doing OK” after testing positive for COVID-19. Cubs manager David Ross said the team’s traveling party has tested negative every day since Wednesday and thinks the health protocols are one of the reasons the Cubs have not been further impacted.

“I think it’s a mixture of everybody wearing their mask and trying to stay as diligent as possible,” Ross said.

Mike Napoli is handling the duties at first base with Driver out. Ross joked that Driver says he’ll stay out as long as necessary if means the Cubs keep scoring runs.


Cubs: Former Pirate Trevor Williams (1-0, 3.00 ERA) makes his first start at PNC Park as a visitor in the series finale on Sunday. Williams spent five seasons with the Pirates, going 31-37 with a 4.43 ERA Pittsburgh released him last November.

Pirates: JT Brubaker (0-0, 2.25) faces the Cubs for the fourth time. Brubaker is 1-1 with a 1.84 ERA in his career against Chicago.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.