Pirates reliever Keone Kela has been out since May 4 because of right shoulder inflammation, though he may finally be moving toward a return. The team announced that Kela’s likely to start a rehab assignment at the Triple-A level Saturday.
This is the second time Kela has begun a rehab stint since he landed on the injured list. However, Kela’s previous attempt came to a halt May 31 because of a setback – one that has shelved him for another month and a half to this point. The shoulder woes added to a less-than-ideal early season start for Kela, who yielded six earned runs on 11 hits and four walks (with 11 strikeouts) in 11 2/3 innings before the Pirates shut him down. Those subpar numbers came with a slight velocity drop for Kela – after averaging almost 97 mph on his fastball from 2017-18, it has clocked in just below 96 mph this year. His curveball and changeup have also lost some pep in comparison to the previous two seasons.
The Pirates are almost exactly a year from acquiring Kela, whom they got from the Rangers last July 31 for left-handed pitching prospect Taylor Hearn and young infielder Sherten Apostel. Kela was terrific for the Pirates over a small sample in 2018, and came into this year having logged quality production in each season but one (2016) since making his major league debut in 2015. The usual version of Kela would be a welcome late-season addition for the Pirates, who – despite an unimposing 44-47 record – are a surmountable 4 1/2 games back in the National League Central and three behind a wild-card spot in the NL.
Along with issuing an update on Kela, the Pirates announced that injured infielder Erik Gonzalez had to stop his rehab because of a left hamstring strain. It’s a new injury for the 27-year-old Gonzalez, who has been down since undergoing surgery on a fractured left clavicle April 25. Gonzalez, acquired from the Indians in a trade for outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff in the offseason, opened 2019 as Pittsburgh’s starting shortstop prior to his injury. But the Pirates have since seen rookie Kevin Newman post eye-opening production at the position, calling into question whether the out-of-options, light-hitting Gonzalez will have a place on their roster if and when he does return this year.