Pirates' Mitch Keller shows frustration as command issues continue against Dodgers

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Jun. 10—After another start in which he struggled with fastball command, Mitch Keller was in no mood to make excuses just because the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the reigning World Series champions.

The right-hander's frustration level with the recurring theme of his season was palpable following a 6-3 rain-shortened loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday afternoon before 9,396 at PNC Park.

The game was interrupted at 3:26 p.m. in the top of the eighth inning. When it was called 1 hour, 15 minutes later, Keller was still fuming.

"I mean," Keller said, "I'm probably the most (ticked)-off guy in this locker room."

Pirates manager Derek Shelton pulled Keller (3-7) after he allowed four runs on five hits, three walks (one intentional) and hit two batters while striking out three in 2 2/3 innings.

It was Keller's second consecutive abbreviated start and sixth out of a dozen in which he didn't make it through the fourth inning, and Shelton blamed his lack of fastball command.

"When you don't do that," Shelton said, "it's hard to get everything else working."

If Keller throwing his first two pitches of the game for balls wasn't a bad sign, his third pitch was. Dodgers star Mookie Betts drove Keller's 2-0 fastball 417 feet into the visiting bullpen for a 1-0 lead.

In the second inning, Keller got out of a bases-loaded jam by getting Max Muncy to fly out to left, just after Muncy almost hit a grand slam to right before it veered foul.

The Pirates tied it when Phillip Evans hit a leadoff single down the right field line, then scored from first on a double to right by Erik Gonzalez. When Ka'ai Tom attempted a sacrifice fly to shallow right, Betts made the shoestring catch, spun and threw a perfect one-hopper to Austin Barnes to get Gonzalez out at home.

Keller had nowhere to escape in the third. He hit Justin Turner, gave up a single to Cody Bellinger and hit Matt Beaty to load the bases again. Zack McKinstry's sacrifice fly gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Keller intentionally walked Austin Barnes to load the bases for Urias, whose single scored Bellinger and Gavin Lux to make it 4-1.

"I think we have a good plan. It's just me going out and executing," Keller said. "I had two batters 0-2 in the third inning. If I don't hit them, it's a whole different game. Just executing pitches is what it boils down to. Executing and getting ahead. When I do that, I'm pretty good. When I don't, stuff like that happens."

The Dodgers (37-25) swept the three-game series, and Urias (9-2) got the win after allowing three runs on six hits with five strikeouts and a wild pitch in six innings. Keller (3-7) took the loss for the Pirates (23-38), who closed it to 4-3 when Bryan Reynolds hit 373-foot two-run homer to left field for his 10th of the season in the third.

Keller has been struggling since spring training but has continuously claimed that he feels fine, even if he can't control his fastball.

"I feel like I'm in a lot better spot, mentally and in my delivery," Keller said. "Now it's just a matter of executing and getting ahead."

The Dodgers did just that in the top of the seventh when Bellinger hit a leadoff single to left off Duane Underwood Jr. and scored on Beaty's single to center for a 5-3 lead. David Bednar inherited loaded bases but backhanded a Barnes dribbler and threw to home for the force out, then struck out pinch hitter Chris Taylor to get out of the jam.

Kyle Crick put the Pirates right back in one, as Betts led off the eighth with a single, reached second when Max Muncy walked, stole third base and scored on Justin Turner's single to center for a 6-3 lead. The Dodgers had runners on first and second when the game was interrupted by rain, and the grounds crew covered the field with tarp.

Shelton said the Pirates have not discussed sending Keller to Triple-A Indianapolis to work through his struggles. The club prefers to have Keller pitch through his issues as a key piece of a starting rotation that has dealt with injuries to Steven Brault, Trevor Cahill and Chad Kuhl.

"No, I think we need to continue to work on what we're working on here," Shelton said. "That would be a decision that we would talk about. It's more fastball command stuff. We have to isolate on why and then how it needs to transfer into games."

That support provided some relief for Keller, who is searching for success while struggling to find the strike zone.

"It's good, I guess, to know that they have faith in me," Keller said. "Every conversation that we have is really good, and we're making strides forward. Just going through it right now and trying to get out of it."

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at kgorman@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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