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Kela not fazed by rocky spring outing

Right-hander: 'I’m not really too worried about it. My arm feels great.'
@adamdberry
March 9, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Keone Kela turned around to watch Michael Reed’s home run clear the center-field fence at LECOM Park, looked back toward the Pirates dugout, shrugged and smiled. Kela gave up four runs on four hits, including three long home runs on a trio of fastballs over the plate,

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Keone Kela turned around to watch Michael Reed’s home run clear the center-field fence at LECOM Park, looked back toward the Pirates dugout, shrugged and smiled.

Kela gave up four runs on four hits, including three long home runs on a trio of fastballs over the plate, in the fifth inning of the Pirates’ 10-1 loss to the Twins on Saturday -- but he was hardly concerned. Pittsburgh’s setup man retired the next three hitters on seven pitches to get out of the inning.

Kela isn’t worried about the results at this point of the year anyway.

“I’ll take the process. I respect the process,” Kela said. “Spring Training is not result-oriented. It’s just to get yourself ready. I believe in myself. I’m confident in what I do. I’m not really too worried about it. My arm feels great. To me, that’s No. 1.

“Today, I felt really good. That’s why I don’t really worry about the results. At the end of the day, my preparation, the way my arm felt -- is all in line with how I need to feel in order to dominate during the season.”

Kela allowed one run and struck out 21 batters in 14 appearances last August after the Pirates acquired him from the Rangers. The club shut him down in early September “to ensure an optimal amount of rest and recovery to be ready in Spring Training,” general manager Neal Huntington said at the time. Kela didn’t pitch in a Grapefruit League game until March 2.

Due to that time down and his offseason preparation, Kela said he’s feeling “great.” If anything, he said, he felt too strong on Saturday. That has given the 25-year-old right-hander more freedom to work on specific areas of his game, which is what he’s doing this spring.

For instance, Kela relied primarily on his fastball (62.6 percent) and put-away curveball (35.7 percent) last season. He threw only 13 changeups last season, according to Statcast data, accounting for less than 2 percent of his pitch usage. This spring, he said about 20 percent of his offerings have been changeups. He’s actually thrown more changeups than curveballs.

“You’ve got to cheat to hit his fastball,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “If something else can come out 10 mph slower than that and it’s not the curve, it’s another weapon. That’s one of the things he’s trying to incorporate.”

You might have also noticed Kela flipping his hand back-and-forth between pitches on Saturday. He’s trying to nail down a release point so that all of his pitches look the same coming out of his hand. So no, he’s not too worried about giving up a few Spring Training home runs.

“As far as my fastball getting hit, that’s going to happen when you throw a fastball down the [chute],” Kela said. “When I’m out there trying to work on something, work on my hand path or something, I’m not results-oriented in Spring Training. I’m here to try to work.”

Dickerson day to day

Corey Dickerson took a painful foul ball to the groin during his first at-bat on Saturday, but that wasn’t the injury that knocked him out of the game.

He also tweaked his right ankle on a slide into second base during the third inning. The dirt around the bag was wet, so the tip of Dickerson’s cleat got stuck as he slid. He exited the game due to right ankle discomfort, but he does not expect to be sidelined for long.

“All my strength’s perfectly fine. I’m not really too worried about it,” he said. “Just see how sore I get.”

Around the horn

• Closer Felipe Vázquez pitched a dominant fourth inning, needing only 10 pitches to retire the side and touching 99 mph on the LECOM Park radar gun. Vazquez missed his last scheduled appearance due to an upper respiratory infection, but he looked like he was in midseason form on Saturday.

Hurdle praised Vazquez for coming into camp ready to pitch. After Vazquez’s quick inning, Hurdle said he turned to pitching coach Ray Searage and quipped, “You’ve worked with him enough. You can go ahead and start focusing on some of the other guys.”

• Third baseman Colin Moran is lining up farther back than he did a year ago in an effort to increase his lateral range. The Pirates hope that positioning, combined with Moran’s mobility and agility work, will allow him to get to more balls to his right and left. He made a nice play coming in on a grounder to end the third inning of Saturday’s game.

“We wanted to experiment with it. Obviously it gives him more range,” Hurdle said. “The closer in you play, your range is constricted. It takes away opportunity for lateral movement. Further back, you’ve got more lateral movement where you can cut off more balls left and right. I think it’s going to help him.”

• Right-hander Joe Musgrove threw 53 pitches over three innings in a simulated game at Pirate City. He is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday against the Rays at LECOM Park.

Up next

Right-hander Chris Archer will make his second Grapefruit League start on Sunday against the Yankees at 1:05 p.m. ET at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Archer struck out four in two hitless innings in his first official spring start on Tuesday. Right-handers Nick Burdi, Jesus Liranzo, Geoff Hartlieb and Alex McRae are also scheduled to pitch. Former Pirates lefty J.A. Happ is slated to start for New York. The game will air in Pittsburgh on KDKA-FM.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.