PITTSBURGH -- It’s been a while since Keone Kela felt like himself on the mound.
He knew something wasn’t right when he took the mound on May 4 at PNC Park and threw fastballs that clocked in at 91 mph. He could tell his typically overpowering stuff wasn’t back when his fastball sat around 91-94 mph, not 96-98 mph, during a May 25 rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis.
After Kela played catch for a few days in Cincinnati and got back on the bullpen mound Thursday afternoon, the Pirates decided on Friday to shut down their Opening Day setup man for approximately 10 days due to recurrent right shoulder discomfort.
“That 10-day rest period will allow the discomfort, the inflammation to calm down, to subside,” director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said on Saturday.
After the time off, Kela hopes, he’ll be able to get back to normal.
“They brought me over here to be an elite pitcher with elite stuff, and that wasn’t elite,” Kela said. “I just want to go back to the drawing board and get myself right so I can come up here and give the organization and myself and my teammates behind me the best version of me.”
Kela said his arm felt “really good” in Spring Training, but he began having trouble getting loose after coming north. He didn’t want to use the weather as an excuse, but he said his body wasn’t able to adjust to the lower temperatures. He pitched through the fatigue but never felt like the dominant late-inning reliever he’s been most of his career.
Kela hasn’t pitched for the Pirates since that May 4 outing, when he walked off the mound after throwing seven pitches. He bounced back well enough to throw 21 pitches in a simulated game on May 22 and moved on to a rehab assignment three days later.
“Things were progressing and trending up. We’ve seen a lot of improvements in my shoulder,” Kela said. “It’s just not my peak, where I need to be.”
Tomczyk said Kela’s injury was the product of “general wear and tear,” not a single pitch or throw. Kela, who has dealt with shoulder issues in the past, said he hasn’t figured out the source of his shoulder fatigue.
Kela reported only “normal” soreness on Sunday and had no issues playing long toss in Cincinnati earlier this week, Tomczyk said. He will continue his rehab at the Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla., when the Pirates begin a 10-game road trip next week. He wants to return as soon as possible, but he knows it’s important to feel like himself when he does so.
“I can throw at 120 feet. I can throw long toss,” Kela said. “It’s just when I try to come into a game -- full exertion, full torque, full game speed -- is when I’m not built up to get over my front knee and get extended like I want to and rip down on that baseball so you can get that life that I’ve shown prior with this club and in prior years with Texas.”
The Pirates shut down Kela early last September after he put together a 2.93 ERA and struck out 22 batters in 15 1/3 innings over 16 appearances for the Bucs. The former Rangers closer, acquired on July 31 for prospects Taylor Hearn and Sherten Apostel, recorded a 4.63 ERA in 14 appearances to begin this season.
Around the horn
• During this homestand, catcher Elias Diaz is partnering with Pirates Charities in support of his Shoes for Venezuela campaign. Fans can donate pairs of new shoes at the 50/50 kiosks around PNC Park. Diaz has worked to provide shoes for children in his native Venezuela for years, and he wanted to step up his efforts this year.
“Trying to help more families, more children,” Diaz said. “It’s important because it comes from my heart.”
• Rookie shortstop Cole Tucker has been working in the batting cages with hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz on a mechanical adjustment that is starting to pay off. In short, Tucker has changed the location and load of his hands, bringing them closer to his face than his back shoulder. After struggling in his first taste of the Majors, Tucker entered Saturday with four hits in his last four at-bats.
“The last few days, the results have shown up, which is sweet, but I’ve been working at it for a minute,” Tucker said.
• As part of the African American Heritage Celebration weekend, the Pirates and Brewers honored Negro League baseball on Saturday by wearing the uniforms of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Milwaukee Bears.
• The Pirates finished May with a 15-14 record despite being outscored, 188-143, and having the Majors’ highest ERA (6.19).