Anyone who follows the Pittsburgh Pirates knew going into the season that Keone Kela had a leg up on the closer role. Well, Derek Shelton has made that official. Rather than a typical comment about how it's an open competition, Shelton opted for candor, "Kela will be the guy at the end of the game."
Take a quick look at the numbers and you will see why Shelton has faith in the 26-year-old reliever. Though he has a small sample size, Kela's numbers from his time in Pittsburgh closely mirror those of his imprisoned predecessor, Felipe Vazquez. Through 45 innings in Pittsburgh, Kela has a 2.40 ERA, a 1.000 WHIP, and 11 Ks/9. Compare those numbers with Vazquez's time in Pittsburgh (2.17/1.079/11.8), during which he was among the league's best closers, and you should feel pretty good with who we have shutting down teams in the ninth...the Pirates just need to get him on the field.
Now that Kela has a more prominent role with the Pirates, he is going to be looked upon for some leadership. He's got some work to do in that department after he was suspended last season for an altercation with a coach. This is something that Kela seems to understand as he looks to change the narrative around both he and the team:
“It’s time to change the narrative. That starts with me. We have a good group of guys in here. We’re going to have fun and play with passion. We don’t have any shadiness or anything like that. We’re kind of like the misfits of baseball right now. So it’s more important for us to stick together, and let’s see if we surprise people.”
His effort in changing that narrative, has been noticeable. He's been a prominent figure in Pirates' City since reporting, and has been saying all the right things.
Although Kela is the closer, it doesn't necessarily mean that's a long-term gig, at least not in Pittsburgh. He will be a free agent in 2021. So, a strong first half from him could make him a valuable trade piece for reliever-needy contenders at the deadline.
Follow Jared on Twitter: @a_piratelife