Texas Rangers

Rangers demote Kela to preserve clubhouse chemistry

Rangers manager Jeff Banister on Keone Kela's small moments of growth in 2016

Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Keone Kela learned from surgery that limited his 2016 season (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).
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Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Keone Kela learned from surgery that limited his 2016 season (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Right-hander Keone Kela, expected to be a key member of the Texas Rangers’ bullpen, will be optioned to Triple A Round Rock to start the season as an apparent form of punishment for an undisclosed issue or series of issues in which he has threatened to disrupt the team’s clubhouse chemistry.

General manager Jon Daniels said that the decision to demote Kela was not performance-based after he turned in a solid spring and appeared to be more like the pitcher he was in 2015 as a rookie than during a disappointing 2016 season that included an early elbow injury.

Daniels said that he expects Kela’s banishment to be more of a short-term situation, but it’s clear that whatever he did will not be tolerated.

“One of our competitive advantages, maybe our biggest competitive advantage, is our clubhouse culture, our atmosphere, the family that is our organization,” Daniels said. “Sometimes when things happen in families, you need a little time to address them. That’s what’s happened here.

“It doesn’t change how we feel about him short-, medium- and long-term. I have a lot of faith in him as a pitcher and a young man, and hopefully he’ll be back with us at some point going forward.”

One of our competitive advantages, maybe our biggest competitive advantage, is our clubhouse culture, our atmosphere, the family that is our organization. Sometimes when things happen in families, you need a little time to address them. That’s what’s happened here.

General manager Jon Daniels

Daniels did not provide details of what led to the Rangers’ decision, though it is not believed that Kela did anything that ran afoul of the law. Daniels said that the Rangers have established how he must behave in order to return, but again did not provide any details as the club attempts to keep the matter in-house.

It is believed that the incident happened as recently as Friday, but it was not the only transgression on Kela’s ledger since his debut in 2015.

Sources said that Kela has initiated confrontations with multiple players in past seasons, and he has verbally abused members of the media after reading articles that he felt were critical of his performance.

He also directed a tirade at a TV cameraman who had permission from the club to shoot footage of dress-up day late in his rookie season and at a reporter who asked a question he deemed unacceptable during the Prince Fielder retirement news conference.

The Rangers weren’t under any false illusions after drafting Kela and watching him move through the farm system. There were multiple incidents that concerned the Rangers, who during Kela’s first big-league camp in 2015 sought assistance from former and current players to counsel him in an attempt to point him in the right direction.

While clubhouse chemistry is dismissed more and more in an era of statistical analysis, the Rangers believe in it wholeheartedly and insist it has helped take them to consecutive American League West titles.

“People talk about whether we were lucky the past couple of years. I believe a lot of that is the culture on this team, the camaraderie amongst the guys, a belief system in the clubhouse of pulling for each other,” Daniels said.

“Like any family, there’s a certain equilibrium and sometimes you have to take some steps to maintain that. It’s not a permanent thing. I fully expect we’ll get that to a point where he’s here. He’s one of the most talented guys on the team. On a talented team, that’s saying something.”

Rangers manager Jeff Banister discusses the combined three-hit shutout thrown by Cole Hamels and Andrew Cashner (Video by Stefan Stevenson).

Kela tossed five scoreless innings in Cactus League games, allowing three hits and striking out seven while walking only one. He had one sluggish outing in a minor league game, but otherwise was a camp standout who had established a place in the back of the bullpen along with closer Sam Dyson and set-up man Matt Bush.

Daniels called Kela, 23, one of the most talented relief pitchers in baseball. Kela went 7-5 with a 2.39 ERA in 2015 but was 5-1 with a 6.09 ERA last season and dealt with an early-season elbow operation.

0.00 Keone Kela’s ERA in four Cactus League outings spanning five innings

Fellow righties Tony Barnette and Jeremy Jeffress are expected to see more work in the later innings. The Rangers will likely continue to scan the transactions wire for a reliever who might be able to help while Kela is away from the team.

Tanner Scheppers is unlikely to make the team as he continues to deal with discomfort in his lower abdomen, and Dillon Gee is likely to start the season as a starter at Round Rock despite the need for a proven arm.

Righty Mike Hauschild appears to be a lock for Opening Day, and righty Jose Leclerc and lefty Dario Alvarez have also seen their outlooks improve because of the Kela demotion.

“We know the talent Keone has and what he’s been able to do for us,” Banister said. “It has given some other guys out there an opportunity at this time. What I will say is that Sam Dyson is our closer, and the rest of those guys will be used as we feel they are best used in certain situations.

“One thing that JD and the scouts and the front office have been able to do is put together some really good depth for us. We have a group of guys that know how to pitch meaningful innings and they know what it feels like to pitch in those stressful innings at the back end of games.”

Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Keone Kela learned from surgery that limited his 2016 season (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Kansas City

000

000

000

0

Texas

030

000

00x

3

Kansas City ab

r

h

bi

Texas ab

r

h

bi

A.Grdon rf

3

0

0

0

C.Gomez cf

1

0

0

1

O’Brien rf

1

0

0

0

J.Hying pr

1

0

0

0

Mstakas 3b

3

0

1

0

Sh.Choo dh

2

0

0

0

D.Btera c

1

0

0

0

C.Pello ph

0

0

0

0

Lo.Cain cf

3

0

0

0

Ro.Odor 2b

2

0

1

0

E.Hsmer 1b

3

0

1

0

Rbinson 2b

2

0

0

0

S.Perez c

3

0

0

0

M.Npoli 1b

2

0

0

0

Br.Moss lf

2

0

0

0

J.Prfar 1b

2

0

0

0

C.Colon 3b

1

0

0

0

N.Mzara rf

3

1

1

0

Cthbert dh

2

0

0

0

T.Snder rf

1

0

0

0

Escobar ss

2

0

1

0

J.Lcroy c

3

1

1

0

Mrrfeld 1b

1

0

0

0

Chrinos c

1

0

0

0

Mondesi 2b

3

0

0

0

J.Gallo 3b

3

0

0

0

Mrtnson 3b

1

0

1

0

Rya.Rua lf

2

1

1

1

DShelds pr

1

0

0

0

E.Andrs ss

2

0

2

1

De Leon ss

2

0

0

0

Totals 28

0

3

0

Totals 31

3

7

3

E—Colon (1). DP—Kansas City 2, Texas 0. LOB—Kansas City 2, Texas 12. 2B—Andrus (3). SB—DeShields (13). SF—Gomez (2).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Kennedy L, 2-2

2

5

3

3

2

3

Wood

1

0

0

0

0

0

Young

1

1

0

0

1

0

Minor

1

0

0

0

0

1

Strahm

1

0

0

0

1

2

Soria

1

0

0

0

0

1

Herrera

1

1

0

0

0

1

Texas

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Hamels W, 2-1

6

3

0

0

0

4

Cashner S, 1-1

3

0

0

0

1

1

HBP—by—Strahm (Gomez), Herrera (Choo). WP—Kennedy, Young. Umpires—Home, Adam Hamari; First, Lance Barrett; Second, Ramon De Jesus; Third, Toby Basner. T—2:34. A—16,932

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