Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton handed Mitch Keller the opening day assignment — and a celebratory bottle of bubbly.
Shelton broke the news to the 26-year-old right-hander on Wednesday that he’ll get the nod when Pittsburgh begins the season at Cincinnati on March 30.
In a video posted on the Pirates’ Twitter feed, Shelton and Keller sat down in the manager’s office and began discussing the right-hander’s side session.
Shelton asked how many pitches he threw.
“Twenty or so. I didn’t really count,” Keller said.
“How many do you think you’ll throw on the 30th?” Shelton asked.
“I have no idea. What’s the 30th?” the pitcher replied.
“Opening day,” Shelton said.
“Ha ha!” Keller said, taking a moment to let it sink in. “Come on! Oh my god, dude!”
Shelton offered a congratulatory handshake and the two hugged. Shelton told Keller how proud he was of the hard work the pitcher put in transforming himself from prospect to big leaguer.
“Thanks! This is so sick!” said Keller, who requested another hug.
Shelton then handed Keller a bottle of champagne. “First of many. You and Clanc, go ahead and celebrate,” the manager said, referring to Keller’s wife, Clancy.
“Yeah, we will,” said Keller, who added, “I can’t wait to tell my parents. This is cool.”
After struggling in his first three big league seasons, Keller revived his career in 2022, going 5-12 with a 3.91 ERA in 31 games, with 29 starts. A brief stint in Triple-A last spring helped him refine a sinker that became an important secondary pitch during a promising second half. Keller went 2-5 with a 3.09 after the All-Star break.
Shelton later told reporters it was a special moment breaking the news to Keller.
“He was pretty fired up. This is a kid who was a very highly touted prospect and had to grind a little bit and discovered himself. It was a cool moment,” Shelton said. “Everybody aspires to be an opening day starter at some point in their career, but for young guys coming up, I do think it’s something they can look and say, ‘Hey, this is a guy who came through our system.”’
Keller is the seventh different opening day starter for the Pirates in the last seven years, including JT Brubaker last season.
The last Pirate to start consecutive opening days was Francisco Liriano, who took the mound first for Pittsburgh from 2014-16.