Hurdle: Kela 'closing in on return' to Majors

Bell returns to lineup to face Phillies

July 20th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates’ Opening Day setup man is nearly ready to return to the Majors.

Right-hander Keone Kela, who has been on the injured list since May 6 due to right shoulder inflammation, could join Pittsburgh’s bullpen later this weekend if he clears one final test in his Minor League rehabilitation assignment.

Pitching for Triple-A Indianapolis, Kela struck out the side on 11 pitches in the seventh inning of a 9-1 win over the Syracuse Mets on Thursday. He rejoined the Pirates at PNC Park on Friday and warmed up in the bullpen, even though he's not yet active, during the fourth inning. Typically, pitching on back-to-back days is the last step for rehabbing relievers before they are cleared to return.

“With no complications, he should be closing in on a return to the active roster,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle received rave reviews of Kela’s most recent appearance from Triple-A manager Brian Esposito and a friend who scouts for another organization. According to Esposito’s report, Kela threw four of five fastballs for strikes and five of six curveballs for strikes. All three hitters Kela faced went down swinging.

“Keone pitched an inning last night and pitched as well as he’s pitched in quite some time,” Hurdle said.

Kela last pitched for the Pirates on May 4, when he exited his outing after throwing seven pitches. Admittedly working without his elite stuff due to discomfort in his shoulder, Kela posted a 4.63 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 11 2/3 innings over his first 14 appearances this season.

The former Rangers closer put together a dominant stretch after joining the Pirates at last year’s Trade Deadline, recording a 2.93 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings before being shut down in early September. If he returns to form, he’ll answer some questions in Pittsburgh’s bullpen as a reliable setup man in front of All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez.

Around the horn

• All-Star first baseman Josh Bell returned to the Pirates’ lineup in Friday's 6-1 loss, going 0-for-3 with a walk, after coming off the bench to pinch-hit Wednesday afternoon in St. Louis. The Bucs bundled that partial day off with their scheduled off-day on Thursday, giving Bell a breather after a busy All-Star “break” during which he hit in the Home Run Derby and started the Midsummer Classic as the National League’s designated hitter.

Going into Friday, Bell was batting just .218 since he was named NL Player of the Month in May, but he has maintained his patience (.311 on-base percentage) and power (.500 slugging percentage) at the plate while hitting nine homers and driving in 32 runs in his last 38 games.

• Starter Chris Archer and Pirates Charities partnered with Good Sports to provide more than $15,000 in new sports equipment -- including baseball bats, gloves, helmets and catcher’s gear -- to the Squirrel Hill Baseball Association on Thursday. Archer attended the event on the Pirates’ off-day, speaking and spending time with 20 young athletes at their home field of Frick Park in Squirrel Hill.

Related

Andrew McCutchen, the former Pirates star who signed a three-year deal with the Phillies this offseason, did not accompany his new team to PNC Park for this weekend’s three-game series. McCutchen is rehabbing a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season. It would have been McCutchen’s second trip to PNC Park since he was traded by the Pirates, as he returned with the Giants last May.