MORGANTOWN, WV – Mitch Keller and Michael Suchy joined the Morgantown Black Bears on opening day to begin their rehab journeys. The staff capped Keller’s night at two innings (though he was not on a pitch count), but Keller showed positive signs in his limited work. He needed only 30 pitches and cruised to four strikeouts while allowing only one hit.
Keller used mostly fastballs in his dismantling of the Mahoning Valley roster and only went to his breaking ball when needed.
“Their second hole hitter was fouling me off so I threw the breaking ball and got him out,” Keller said regarding a seven-pitch at-bat in the first inning.
After the game, Keller said he didn’t feel any discomfort in his back, despite missing a little over a month of playing time. “I felt more in a groove there in the second inning just knowing I didn’t have to worry about anything.”
It has been a long road back for Keller, who first tweaked his back warming up for his start on May 10. (This was also the game in which Keller was stung by a bee.)
“I thought it would go away, but it didn’t,” Keller said. “It ended up staying with me the next start, and that’s when I had to say something because I didn’t want to injure myself further.”
Black Bears manager Brian Esposito, who worked with Keller with the West Virginia Power in 2016, was impressed by his start. “He went out there, and he was attacking hitters with his stuff,” he said. “We had a plan of getting guys out with three pitches or less, and he went out there and did what he had to do.”
Keller is set to make another start for the Black Bears, likely when the team travels to Batavia, New York. Esposito said that an inning limit has not been decided yet for that appearance.
Michael Suchy, who went down with a broken hamate in mid-May, also had a successful first night back. He went 1-for-2 with two walks. Unfortunately, with Morgantown’s shutdown pitching, he did not make any plays in the field.
Suchy’s hit could have easily been scored an error. He hit a chopper to third that bounced over the third baseman’s head when he misjudged the hop. Suchy also struck out chasing a curveball.
A broken hamate bone can severely impair a player’s ability to grip the bat and to swing with any kind of power, but Suchy said his grip felt fine.
According to Suchy, his original timetable had been two months. Seeing him back in action two weeks early is a major positive sign in his recovery. He will play one more nine-inning game tomorrow with Morgantown and expects to return to Altoona after that.