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Keller, Feliz on IL; Kela resumes workouts

@adamdberry
August 2, 2020

The Pirates lost one of their starters and a top bullpen arm to injuries on Sunday morning, placing right-handers Mitch Keller and reliever Michael Feliz on the 10-day injured list after they exited Saturday night’s loss to the Cubs. But they may be getting their closer back before too long.

The Pirates lost one of their starters and a top bullpen arm to injuries on Sunday morning, placing right-handers Mitch Keller and reliever Michael Feliz on the 10-day injured list after they exited Saturday night’s loss to the Cubs. But they may be getting their closer back before too long.

Right-hander Keone Kela, who was sidelined throughout Summer Camp and the first week of the season, cleared the COVID-19 protocol by producing two negative tests at least 24 hours apart and recently resumed working out at PNC Park, manager Derek Shelton said before the Pirates’ series finale Sunday at Wrigley Field. It is uncertain how long Kela will need until he’s prepared to join the active roster, but by all accounts, he was able to work out and keep his arm ready while he was on the injured list.

On his weekly KDKA-FM radio show with Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown, general manager Ben Cherington said Kela was scheduled to throw off the bullpen mound at PNC Park on Sunday. But the club expects it will be “a few more days, at least” before the closer is back in game shape.

"Our expectation is he probably needs a handful of times off the mound and seeing some live hitters,” Cherington said on KDKA-FM. “We're hopeful that he's pitching for the Pirates before we know it, but again, we've got to be mindful of where he is physically.”

Shelton named Kela the closer after the club’s first Spring Training workout. His return would be a significant boost for a Pirates pitching staff that must move forward without Keller (left side discomfort) and Feliz (right forearm discomfort) after having previously lost starters Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery) and Chris Archer (neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome) along with relievers Kyle Crick (strained right shoulder) and Clay Holmes (strained right forearm).

It remains unclear how long Keller and Feliz will be sidelined, but clearly the Pirates were concerned enough to immediately put them on the shelf for at least one-sixth of this shortened season. Keller felt something “in the oblique area” before exiting in the third inning of his start Saturday night, Cherington said, noting that it often takes a few days to fully evaluate oblique injuries.

Keller’s injury leaves an immediate void in the Pirates’ rotation, however. It seems likely that right-hander JT Brubaker will slide into that spot and start Thursday against the Twins at PNC Park, but Shelton said it was still too soon to name Keller’s replacement.

Feliz, meanwhile, will likely need an MRI exam to determine the severity of his right forearm injury. Even that process is more complicated this year. The Pirates want their doctors to look at Feliz, but they want to avoid putting players on commercial flights during the coronavirus pandemic. So Cherington said they are likely going to arrange a car service to return Feliz to Pittsburgh from Chicago as the team travels to Minneapolis on Sunday night.

To replace Keller and Feliz on their 30-man roster, the Pirates activated right-hander Cody Ponce and lefty reliever Sam Howard from the taxi squad.

Ponce received his first callup to the Majors on Sunday morning, a little more than a year after the Pirates acquired him from the Brewers for Jordan Lyles. The right-hander was stretched out to start in Pittsburgh’s alternate training site camp. Howard will add depth to the bullpen, which operated another arm short after a separate transaction made before Sunday’s game.

The Pirates acquired right-hander Tyler Bashlor from the Mets in exchange for cash considerations and designated for assignment lefty Robbie Erlin to make room for Bashlor on their 40-man roster. The Mets designated the 27-year-old Bashlor for assignment on Tuesday.

Bashlor made 48 appearances for New York the past two years, going 0-6 with a 5.33 ERA, 45 strikeouts, 29 walks and 12 homers allowed in 54 innings. His fastball clocks in around 96 mph on average, and according to Statcast, his four-seam fastball spin rate ranked among the Majors’ 97th percentile last season. Opponents also whiffed on 32.4 percent of the sliders Bashlor threw last season, but the pitch only accounted for 25.7 percent of his offerings.

Cherington said Bashlor will likely report to the club’s alternate training site in Altoona, Pa., as he acclimates to a new organization.

"He's someone that we've liked for a while, our scouts have been on for a while and our informatics team had identified as a guy who might have a real chance to blossom in a bullpen role,” Cherington said on KDKA-FM.

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