The Pirates acquired Kela, 25, from the Rangers on Tuesday in exchange for prospect Taylor Hearn and a player to be named. He arrived in Pittsburgh on Thursday, and the Bucs activated him before Friday's series-opening 7-6 win against the Cardinals at PNC Park.
Kela made his Pirates debut in the seventh inning, and it was eventful. After allowing a one-out ground-rule double to Matt Carpenter, Kela struck out Yadier Molina swinging for his first strikeout in black and yellow. Paul DeJong came up next and poked a liner to right field. Carpenter tried to score on the play, but Gregory Polanco came up firing and delivered a 97-mph rope to home, where Francisco Cervelli easily tagged out Carpenter.
"It was cool. It was definitely good," Kela said. "It was a really good experience and nice to go out there with a great group of men to get the win. It's an awesome place to play, and a beautiful ballpark. I've never been in a prettier ballpark."
The Pirates further shuffled their bullpen by optioning struggling left-hander Steven Brault to Triple-A Indianapolis and recalling right-hander Dovydas Neverauskas. Pittsburgh also optioned right-hander Nick Kingham, as expected, as Chris Archer joined the rotation on Friday night.
But the newest face on Friday was Kela, a hard-throwing right-hander who recorded 24 saves and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings to go along with his 3.44 ERA and 1.15 WHIP for Texas this season. Kela said it was "definitely a shock" to be traded after spending parts of seven seasons in the Rangers organization, but he was excited to join the Pirates.
"I definitely know that this team holds an ambiance about themselves and an aura about themselves in that black and yellow," said Kela, standing in front of his new No. 35 jersey. "I was always excited to come over here, because I think this is a staple ballclub in Major League Baseball. … I was just happy that I was able to come to a winning club with contention on the line."
While chatting with manager Clint Hurdle on Friday afternoon, Kela made it clear that he'll pitch in any situation. He pitched in a number of roles before taking over the ninth inning in Texas, and that experience should serve him well with his new team.
"I just think it allows me to be versatile," Kela said. "I don't care where I go. I don't care what we do. As long as we go out there and win, that's all that matters to me."
That was probably music to Hurdle's ears, as he may not want to break up his established back-end trio of Felipe Vazquez, Kyle Crick and Edgar Santana. Vazquez was named the National League Reliever of the Month for July, and both of his setup men received votes. With those three, Richard Rodriguez and Kela, Hurdle has five legitimate high-leverage arms at his disposal.
"Definitely opens things up. And the other relievers I've spoken with are all open-minded to do what's best for the club," Hurdle said. "However, I reaffirmed [with] all of them that we've got a pretty good thing going right now, the way it's going, so we're not going to force anything. … What it gives us is an opportunity any day for a quality guy to have a day off and be replaced by a quality guy."
Sending out Brault leaves the Pirates with only one left-hander on the staff -- Vazquez -- but Brault needed work in Triple-A after struggling to find the strike zone lately. Brault leads Pittsburgh with 46 walks despite ranking fifth on the club with 69 1/3 innings. Since moving to the bullpen as a long reliever in May, Brault owns a 4.91 ERA with 31 walks in 40 1/3 innings.
Neverauskas hasn't fared any better in the Majors, posting an 11.85 ERA and 2.12 WHIP in 13 appearances, but he can work multiple innings if necessary and hasn't pitched since Tuesday. The Pirates would love to see Neverauskas find the same success he's had in Triple-A, as he's put together a 1.14 ERA with 11.4 strikeouts per nine for Indianapolis.