Keone Kela has been out of action since May 4 when the Pirates placed him on the 60-day injured list with right elbow inflammation. One of their key deadline additions from last season, it seems Kela will be ready to rejoin the team right around deadline time once again. The Pirates sent him to Triple-A Indianapolis on a rehab assignment last week, and he could be ready for game action with the Pirates within the week, per Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via Twitter).
Kela was tremendous for the Pirates in 16 appearances last season after coming over from Texas. This season was more of a mixed bag: he’ll carry a 4.63 ERA (5.71 FIP) whenever he returns to game action. The 26-year-old endured a rough stretch in early April, but he’d run up a streak of six consecutive scoreless outings before hitting the injured list. On his rehab assignment he’s been roughed up a bit (13.5 H/9), but the stuff is there as he has struck out seven batters in 3 1/3 innings.
The Pirates bullpen could use the boost, as they’ve been a bottom-10 unit by ERA, xFIP, and fWAR this season. Bullpen coach Euclides Rojas is tasked with getting this previously-strong group back on track as they’ve fallen particularly prone to missing the strike zone this year, ranking 29th in the majors with 4.34 BB/9. Kela’s been dogged at times by control issues himself, but if he returns as he’s been in 2018-19, he’ll strengthen the bridge between the Pittsburgh starters and closer Felipe Vazquez.
The trade rumors continue to swirl around Vazquez, of course, despite the Pirates insistence that their closer is not on the market. Were the Buccos to move Vazquez, a healthy Kela might be first in line to replace him. Vazquez is on a great contract, however, and the Pirates are still within shouting distance of the playoffs, trailing both the division and wild card by only five games.