Kela (forearm) day to day after early exit

Pirates' top trade chip threw five pitches before departing vs. Brewers

August 23rd, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- After exiting the Pirates’ 7-2 win over the Brewers on Friday night, Pirates closer is considered day to day due to right forearm tightness.

Kela reported tightness in his right forearm, Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said, and he was removed as a precaution after throwing five pitches. The club announced during Saturday’s game that Kela’s throwing status will be reassessed “early next week” after he was re-examined by their medical staff on Saturday. He remains on their active roster but unavailable out of the bullpen.

Asked about Kela on his weekly KDKA-FM show, general manager Ben Cherington said the Pirates are “optimistic that his elbow is completely stable. He’s strong. We’ve just got to make sure he’s feeling good before he goes out there.”

To that end, Kela will travel with the Pirates to Chicago on Monday and be re-assessed on Tuesday. 

“From what I’ve gathered -- talking to Keone and staff and feedback I’ve gotten -- [is] that it’s probably one of those things you can put in the bucket of the challenges of getting ready for a season this year,” Cherington said on KDKA-FM. “Especially in his case where he missed some time when he was in the quarantine, then ramping up.”

Cherington noted that, without a typical Spring Training ramp-up, Kela was still throwing 97 mph in his first appearance of the season.

“He’s stepping on it. There’s no time to hold back in a game like that. It’s 97 mph. He’s throwing his curveball really hard like he always does. He’s got great stuff,” Cherington said. “That’s going to put a different kind of strain on the body than you might get in a Spring Training. We’re seeing that around the league as pitchers try to handle that.”

The Pirates have experienced that as much as any other team, which is one reason Shelton was so quick to pull Kela from Friday’s game.

“I was erring way on the side of safety because of where we're at this year,” Shelton said, referring to the club’s long list of pitchers who have been injured this year: Kyle Crick, Clay Holmes, Mitch Keller, Michael Feliz, Nick Burdi, Joe Musgrove and, most recently, Yacksel Ríos.

Of that group, five are relievers and three -- Holmes, Feliz and Burdi -- are out with season-ending forearm injuries. The Pirates simply cannot afford to lose Kela, their best reliever and most valuable trade chip, with the Trade Deadline looming on Aug. 31.

After the game, Shelton reiterated that Kela reported only tightness in his forearm, which he grabbed on the mound after throwing a first-pitch strike to Brock Holt. Shelton said he “can’t say if it’s anything he’s been dealing with” previously. Kela missed time last season due to a right shoulder injury.

After testing positive for COVID-19 and missing all of Summer Camp as a result, Kela came off the injured list on Aug. 13 and threw 28 pitches in a 9-6 win over Cincinnati. He pitched again five days later in a 6-3 loss to Cleveland, throwing 22 pitches and striking out two in a scoreless ninth inning.

Friday night was Kela’s first appearance since Tuesday. He gave up a single to Luis Urías and threw one pitch to Holt before Shelton, pitching coach Oscar Marin, catcher John Ryan Murphy and head athletic trainer Bryan Housand rushed out to the mound. Kela shook his shoulder and flexed his forearm, but he didn’t throw a warmup pitch before leaving.

“For [being] overly cautious, that's probably on me just because of the fact that we've lost five relievers, and he's so important to us, and he's just coming back to pitch,” Shelton said. "I didn't even really give him the option. When I got to the edge of the mound and he said, 'I tightened up a little bit,' I just kind of took the ball from him and said, 'OK.'"