Kansas City Royals pitcher Brad Keller struggles with elements in Boston

Lynn Worthy
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny (22) talks with starting pitcher Brad Keller (56) after Keller was relieved during the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday at Fenway Park.

BOSTON — Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller didn't technically lose his battle against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night — he earned a no decision — but he may have lost his battle against the elements.

Keller struggled with command throughout his start at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox won 7-6.

He hit the first batter he faced, Enrique Hernandez, with a first-pitch fastball that rode up and in. Keller went on to rack up five walks in five innings on a 95-degree day in Boston.

"Brad was having difficulty holding onto the ball at times," Royals manager Mike Matheny said. "It ended up leading into some strange walks after he was pretty efficient.

"But overall, he came out aggressive and attacking the zone exactly like we wanted. It wasn't necessarily in the bottom of the zone, but he still was throwing a lot of strikes with the slider and with the fastball. He had trouble getting it down. It was hard to keep the sweat from pouring on his hand."

Keller allowed six runs and 10 hits — all singles — along with the five walks. He did not register a strikeout.

Left-hander Eric Skoglund was the last Royals pitcher to go at least five innings without a strikeout. Skoglund did it against the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 25, 2019.

"I felt like, a lot of the pitches, right at release point I could almost feel the ball slide out of my hand or go between my fingertips or something," Keller said. "It was just such a wet, humid night. It was really hard to find a dry spot on my body to kind of grip on a baseball."

The previous night, Red Sox starting pitcher Garrett Richards repeatedly dunked his arm into a cooler of ice between innings in an attempt to minimize his sweat.

Keller, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound right-hander, said his sweat and slickness of the ball affected his sinker probably more than any of his pitches. He tried to pull down as hard as could upon releasing the ball to get it in the strike zone.

"It was really hard to get a grip of the baseball," Keller said. "My whole uniform was soaked before the first inning even started, which isn't an excuse but it was tough because I felt like rosin wasn't really doing a whole lot and neither was the dirt. I just basically had to work with what we had."

"Honestly, I was pretty happy with keeping a team like this in a ballpark like this on the ground. Not really that much hard contact all night. I just wish I commanded down in the zone better, but I feel like I still made pitches when I had to, battled out of some jams."

Keller gave up two runs on four hits and a hit batter in the first inning. All four singles were hit on the ground.

Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield gloved the fifth ground ball of the inning and turned an inning-ending double play.

Keller created a logjam in the third inning with three consecutive one-out walks to load the bases. Hunter Renfroe's sacrifice fly to center field gave the Red Sox a one-run edge. Keller got an inning-ending ground ball to limit the damage to one run.

Keller ran into more trouble in the fourth. The first four Red Sox batters reached base via three hits and a walk. The third batter, Hernandez, slapped an RBI single to left field that tied the score. J.D. Martinez's sacrifice fly to center field put the Red Sox ahead 5-4.

The game featured seven ties or lead changes within the first six innings.

"Obviously, the team gave me quite a few chances to run away with that one," Keller said. "I've just gotta be better at getting some shutdown innings. Just a tough day all in all."

Major League Baseball recently instituted an "enhanced enforcement" of the rule banning the use of any foreign substance other than the rosin bag provided on the mound after some pitchers used substances to create what the league determined was a competitive advantage.

For years, the mixture of rosin and sunscreen had virtually been an accepted practice for pitchers to secure their grip on the ball. Officials, umpires and opponents largely looked the other way in regard to its usage.

However, now any player deemed to have used a foreign substance now faces a 10-game suspension and his team will not be allowed to replace his spot on the active roster.