Pirates closer Keone Kela will be active for the team’s upcoming series against the Reds, manager Derek Shelton announced to reporters Wednesday (Twitter link via Will Graves of the Associated Press). It’ll be the season debut for Kela, who has yet to pitch since missing Summer Camp due to a positive Covid-19 test.
Kela, 27, confirmed in a late-July interview with Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he’d tested positive. Despite being asymptomatic, he wasn’t able to meet the requirement of consecutive negative tests, though, which dragged his absence out into a weeks-long ordeal. He was eventually cleared to report to the team in early August and has been building up since that time.
It’ll be a quick ramp-up for Kela, but he’s surely champing at the bit to return. The hard-throwing righty is a free agent for the first time this winter, so he undoubtedly wants as large a window as possible to impress potential suitors — particularly after a minor elbow issue limited him to 29 2/3 frames last year. There’s ample incentive for the Pirates to get him back on the hill, too. Kela represents one of their most obvious trade chips as the team eyes the future and embarks on what looks to be a rebuilding effort. Starling Marte was already traded over the winter.
Kela has pitched in parts of five Major League seasons. He’s had some injury troubles and at times drawn negative headlines for off-field issues — last year’s altercation with a member of the coaching staff led to a team-issued suspension — but Kela is an undeniably talented late-inning reliever. In 214 2/3 big league innings, he’s pitched to a 3.23 ERA with 11.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9 and a 41.3 percent ground-ball rate. He’s been particularly strong over the past three seasons, logging a combined 2.84 ERA and 3.20 FIP in 120 1/3 innings of relief between Texas and Pittsburgh. Shelton has previously confirmed that Kela will serve as Pittsburgh’s closer upon his return.