Keone Kela has not gone AWOL. He hasn’t opted out, either.
The Pittsburgh Pirates closer has actually been quarantined since June 30 after he tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to Pittsburgh, but inconsistent test results have kept Kela off the field and away from his teammates.
“It’s very frustrating,” Kela said Wednesday. “I’ve been going through the pandemic just like everyone else. I was really excited to come back here to Pittsburgh and try to get this season underway.
“I know I’m a big part of the team. I was looking forward to coming here and doing everything we can to go out there and win some ball games.”
When Kela, a former Everett Community College pitcher, can return is a gigantic question mark, as he awaits likely intervention by local doctors and Major League Baseball, hoping they determine that he poses no threat to his teammates and is not contagious.
Kela has not shown any symptoms even back when he was first diagnosed. Kela said he’s been saliva tested six times since he was diagnosed and had several nasal and blood tests. They’ve all either been inconclusive or positive, Kela said, although it doesn’t make sense to him that he would have no symptoms and fail to produce a negative test after quarantining for more than three weeks.
“What I’ve been told is that it’s essentially dormant in me,” Kela said. “I guess I contracted it, but I don’t know. It’s weird. It doesn’t make any sense to me because people aren’t supposed to be testing positive after 14 days, especially when you’re asymptomatic.”
After a MLB player tests positive, he’s required to produce two negative tests within a 24-hour period. Kela, obviously, has not been able to do that.
He has also resisted the urge to allow the Pirates to disclose his battle, hoping he would simply make it back and get ready for opening day. But recently, Kela has accepted that as impossible.
Knowing fans are speculating on his whereabouts, Kela wanted to give everyone the truth about his situation.
“I don’t care about what people say, but now that we’re getting close to the season, I just wanted to provide some clarity so people in Pittsburgh have an understanding,” Kela said. “I was hoping I could get cleared and get the season underway, but it doesn’t seem like I’m going to be able to join the team for the opener.”
Kela, 27, was expected to close games for the Pirates and function as their best reliever.
Acquired in a trade with the Texas Rangers in 2018, Kela had a 2.12 ERA in 2019 with 33 strikeouts and 11 walks in 29 innings. In his final 18 appearances, the hard-throwing righty gave up one run in 18 innings with 22 strikeouts and seven walks.
Used to being criticized for his combative nature on the mound, Kela is also strikingly honest. Like when he admitted he threw at Derek Dietrich of the Cincinnati Reds last year, trying to send a message.
It’s that sort of brutal honesty that makes Kela bristle when he talks about people thinking he opted out of the season or did something crazy.
“I’m pretty outspoken, so people should already know: If I was going to opt out, I would have said that already,” Kela said. “I’m pretty transparent.”
Instead of anchoring the Pirates’ bullpen, Kela finds himself in a weird sort of abyss, where he basically needs help from local and MLB doctors to determine that he poses no threat before he’s allowed back around his teammates again.
“I’m awaiting for clearance from the league,” Kela said. “That’s been why I haven’t been able to rejoin the team.
“I don’t know, man. It’s a waiting game.”