Brad Keller couldn’t help but smile as he stood in front of his locker inside the Kansas City Royals’ clubhouse.
As he greeted his teammates, he understood the opportunity in front of him: a chance to pitch in the majors again.
“I felt like a little kid showing up yesterday and getting out there sitting in the bullpen,” Keller said. “It definitely felt like my first time being back up here. It was awesome.”
Keller was reinstated from the injured list Saturday. He missed 99 games with right-shoulder impingement syndrome.
The injury limited his ability to command the strike zone. Keller posted a 4.36 ERA with 40 walks and 31 strikeouts in nine starts. There were tough moments — he allowed eight walks against the San Diego Padres — that contributed to his ineffectiveness.
Keller was added to the injury list on May 19. He underwent two rehab assignments as he worked through the painful injury.
“It felt like every time I took a couple steps forward, something would pop up and bring me right back to where I was,” Keller said. “So, I was trying to stay on top of it, stay on top of rehab and stay on top of keeping my body right.”
But Keller’s mentality never wavered. He focused on navigating rough days with a positive outlook to keep progressing forward.
“That’s where I have gone mentally,” Keller said. “Just stack the good days together and try to get back here.”
Keller returns with a new pitching role. He will operate out of the Royals’ bullpen for the remainder of the season. He has some experience as a reliever due to his 34 career relief appearances.
During his last rehab stint, Keller worked primarily from the bullpen. He allowed four earned runs in six relief appearances with Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
It was a better showing than his first rehab assignment (June 28-July 25) with Triple-A Omaha. Keller allowed 17 runs and 21 walks with the Storm Chasers.
The difference: Keller admitted he was pain free.
“I think over this last month, I feel like I made some big strides,” Keller said. “I was able to go multiple innings during rehab and feel good warming up and playing catch before. I continued to feel good every time I went out there and stepped on the mound. I am trying to build off of that.”
Royals manager Matt Quatraro is excited for Keller’s return. He looks forward to seeing how he progresses in the bullpen. He was impressed with the improvements Keller showed in the minor leagues.
“It is great to see him back,” Quatraro said. “It’s been a tough year with a lot of ups and downs but he is feeling good. His last several outings in the minor leagues, he is back to what we’ve expected early.”
The Royals hope Keller can continue to throw strikes and produce outs. He worked on his slider, sinker and curveball during his rehab. His veteran experience should also help the club’s younger relievers.
“It’s great to have Brad back,” Royals reliever Collin Snider said. “He is a great clubhouse guy and a good guy to be in the bullpen with.”