In December 2017, Brad Keller was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Cincinnati Reds, and was immediately traded to the Kansas City Royals.
Today at Kauffman Stadium, in front of a sold-out crowd of enthusiastic fans, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound right-hander joins the likes of two-time Cy Young Award winner and Royals Hall of Famer Bret Saberhagen and Hall of Famers Kevin Appier, Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff as an opening day pitcher for coach Ned Yost’s squad.
He earned the nod at this year’s spring training camp in Surprise, Ariz., where he was 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings pitched.
But he really earned the opening day start with his 9-6 record and 3.08 ERA last year.
“We played (an exhibition game) in Omaha (the site of the Royals. Triple-A affiliate) and after the game I started thinking about opening day and how exciting it would be,” Keller said before a Wednesday afternoon practice session at The K.
“You want to approach it like any other game, but it’s opening day and the excitement and the nerves are there today. And I know I’ll feel the excitement and the nerves when I’m walking in from the pen (to the mound) before the game tomorrow.
“But it’s actually just another game – it’s just an opening day game.”
Along with those nine wins last year, had allowed just 133 hits in 140 1/3 innings and seemed to get stronger as the season progressed.
Yost was in midseason form as he verbally sparred with members of the media, especially those who were with the team in spring training.
He would not announce the final 25-man roster, nor say who his starting pitchers would be beyond the first two games – Keller and Jakob Junis.
But he went into great detail about spring training and opening day memories.
“This spring really went by fast,” Yost said, as his team finished with an 18-12 record. “I really enjoy being around these guys but it’s time to start playing some games that count.”
While he always enjoys the game itself, there are other opening day distractions that Yost would rather avoid.
“Opening day is great for the player and our fans – and we have great fans in Kansas City,” Yost said. “But I get a little edgy on opening day. There are too many people around. Let’s play the game, and I hope we get to with the weather. It might be a little iffy, but we’ll get it in one day this week.”