Notes: Keller's swift return; Evans activated

June 8th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates had two key players return from the injured list on Tuesday -- one after a few weeks, and one after only a couple of days.

Super utilityman was reinstated from the 10-day injured list after dealing with a right hamstring strain he sustained running the bases on May 12. But somewhat more surprisingly, right-hander was reinstated from the COVID injured list after being placed on it on Sunday.

Keller exited his start on Friday after two innings with what the Pirates called a “heat illness.” Shelton said he reached out to Keller on Friday, who felt a little better but was still dealing with some symptoms. Concern over those symptoms sent him to the injured list.

Shelton said Keller’s IL stint was actually a sign of the protocols working and the Pirates acting in good faith. Keller didn’t break any rules or regulations, and the Pirates tested Keller throughout the week to confirm he did not have COVID. Those signs one often sees when entering a ballpark -- stay home if you feel any of a list of symptoms -- were the ones the club had in mind.

“It was ... out of an abundance of caution, because of his symptoms and the symptoms continued, that we wanted to be sure,” Shelton said. “That’s why he was put on that list.”

Keller threw on Tuesday to keep fresh for his scheduled start on Thursday in the series finale against the Dodgers, which Shelton said is still on schedule.

Evans began the season on a tear, hitting .293/.379/.534 with two doubles and four homers in his first 16 games, but he cooled off and now sits at a .677 OPS. However, even with a drop in his offensive production, his ability to play all over the field -- which Shelton said he would do -- fits with the Pirates’ premium on versatility.

“Any time you add guys back who are part of your regular group, it’s important,” Shelton said. “Because we lost [Ke’Bryan Hayes] after Opening Day, we've really never been with that group we thought we'd have. Getting closer to [having that] makes you feel more comfortable with everything that's going on."

In corresponding moves for Evans and Keller, the Pirates optioned left-handed reliever Austin Davis, who made his season debut on Sunday with a scoreless inning, and designated utilityman Wilmer Difo for assignment.

The DFA of Difo is the most surprising of the moves, as he’s been a strong bench bat for the Pirates this season. Entering Tuesday, the right-handed hitter led the Majors in pinch-hits (8) and had an .840 OPS in 27 at-bats off the bench. With Evans returning, the club’s need to level out its utility and bench bats with its returned everyday players, including Hayes and Colin Moran in the past week, intensified to the point of designating Difo.