Texas Rangers

Evolution of Rangers' closer Keone Kela has been four years in the making

Rangers manager Jeff Banister, left, said that he is proud of the growth process displayed by closer Keone Kela.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister, left, said that he is proud of the growth process displayed by closer Keone Kela. The Associated Press

Rangers' manager Jeff Banister knows when his closer, Keone Kela, is in a good place.

The two can talk openly and frankly in the outfield during pregame drills about whatever is on their minds.

Off the field stuff, the previous night's game, players now and in the past, it doesn't matter the topic.

"You know a guy is in a good place when that’s their mindset," Banister said. "When we can talk about him and his family and things off the field. There’s a relaxed nature about him which is great to see. He probably feels like he’s contributing to a team and his teammates and he understands his role."

Kela, who has 11 saves in 11 chances, including a one-out save in Friday's 8-4 win over the Royals at Globe Life Park, has settled into the closer's role and has been one of the bright spots for the Rangers so far in 2018.

Kela turned 25 in April. He is in his fourth season in the big leagues but first as the Rangers' designated closer. He credits his fellow relievers, most of whom are older or more experienced, and even Rangers' starting pitchers for helping him become a more complete pitcher.

"Before, I would really focus on just getting strikeouts," Kela said. "But after being around this game and veteran guys, I'm finally learning how to pitch. I'm not kidding you. I didn’t know what I was doing [as a rookie in 2015]. I was just going on sheer talent and raw skills. I’m finally finding out who I am and the tools I have."

That means trusting his stuff and not trying to blow every pitch by every better. He's fine with letting hitters get themselves out. That wasn't always the case. He also wasn't so observant of other pitchers and how they worked.

"I just want to make quality pitches and let the guys behind me do their work. And have fun," he said. "Watching Cole [Hamels] pitch [Tuesday], or watching Chavey [Jesse Chavez] pitch [Monday] you watch these guys get guys out."

He's tried filtering what works for others into his own pitch sequence against certain hitters. For example, he watched how Hamels threw to Yankees' sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and incorporated bits into his own plan.

"I took what [Hamels] was doing and flipped it for a right-hander's perspective," Kela said. "Hamels has a back-foot curve ball and I have a changeup that has similar movement, maybe not so much depth. His arm-side fastball was down and away. So I was like, 'OK, I need to get my glove-side fastball down and away.' Life is hard already so I don’t want to make this game more complex than it already is."

Rangers relievever Keone Kela said his demotion to Triple A after an incident with teammates at the end of spring training taught him to be more accountable for his actions (Video by Stefan Stevenson).

Kela's growth and maturity into the role is a sincere, personal achievement for Banister. The two had a long and frank meeting in the manager's office just before spring training in late January. They discussed the mentality it took to be a closer and a representative of the team.

"I'm very pleased and happy with where Key is at and the growth he’s shown," Banister said. "He understands the responsibility of the role. He's done a lot of hard work. Growth doesn't always feel good. Sometimes it's challenging and I think he's done a great job of it."

It hasn't always been a smooth rise to the role for Kela, who was sent down to the minors at the start of the 2017 season after an outburst at the end of spring training.

In Kela's MLB debut, Banister recalled, he allowed a single and walk to the first two batters he faced in Oakland in April 2015. He was breathing fast and moving fast on the mound. Banister had to go out to the mound to settle him down and slow him down. He responded with a strikeout and inning-ending double play.

"There are moments in everyone's life where we get a little sideways," Banister said. "In my opinion, he has done a great job with how he's handled all the situations. We have to continue to grow, all of us, including myself, in how we handle all types of situations. There's still a long ways to go. He's still a young guy."

The growth for Kela is not just evident on the field. After allowing a ninth-inning grand slam in Cleveland (a game the Rangers won in 12 innings) on May 1, Kela sought out reporters in the clubhouse to discuss the moment.

"There is a growth process that has to happen," Banister said. "Key has had closer stuff from the very beginning. But you can have closer stuff and not be a closer.

"There is a mentality, a personality, a responsive attitude and a representation of who you are. It comes along with being that guy. They have to learn how to answer all those questions and go through that process and come out on the other side. Especially when you're a young guy and you feel the weight of the entire world when, in reality, you shouldn't. There is no class for that by the way, you just have to go through it."

Rangers 8, Royals 4

Kansas City

200

100

100

4

10

2

Texas

101

220

02x

8

10

0

Kansas City<QM>

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Jay lf

4

1

1

0

1

0

.291

Merrifield rf

5

0

2

0

0

2

.289

Moustakas 3b

4

1

1

2

1

0

.281

Perez c

5

0

0

0

0

0

.244

Soler dh

4

1

2

1

0

0

.285

Dozier 1b

4

0

2

0

0

1

.212

Escobar ss

3

0

0

0

1

3

.237

Almonte cf

4

1

1

0

0

1

.209

Torres 2b

4

0

1

1

0

1

.429



Texas<QM>

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

DeShields cf

5

1

2

1

0

1

.234

Choo dh

2

1

1

1

3

1

.259

Kiner-Falefa 3b

5

1

1

0

0

0

.259

Mazara rf

5

1

1

3

0

0

.268

Profar ss

4

0

1

0

0

1

.238

Gallo lf

4

0

0

0

0

3

.195

Chirinos c

2

2

0

0

2

1

.183

Odor 2b

4

0

2

0

0

0

.193

Guzman 1b

4

2

2

3

0

0

.226



E—Merrifield (2), Torres (1). LOB—Kansas City 9, Texas 8. 2B—Merrifield (14), Dozier (2), Torres (1), Profar (15), Odor (5). 3B—DeShields (1), Guzman (2). HR—Moustakas (11), off Minor; Soler (6), off Minor; Choo (7), off Skoglund; Guzman (6), off Skoglund; Mazara (12), off Skoglund. RBIs—Moustakas 2 (33), Soler (21), Torres (1), DeShields (7), Choo (22), Mazara 3 (34), Guzman 3 (20). SB—Mazara (1). Runners left in scoring position—Kansas City 6 (Moustakas 2, Perez 2, Escobar, Almonte); Texas 5 (Kiner-Falefa, Mazara, Profar, Chirinos, Guzman). RISP—Kansas City 0 for 7; Texas 2 for 11. Runners moved up—Jay, Odor. DP—Kansas City 1 (Dozier, Escobar).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Skoglund, L, 1-5

4<AF>1/3

7

6

6

2

4

96

6.70

Flynn

2<AF>2/3

1

0

0

1

3

44

4.21

Boyer

1

2

2

2

2

0

29

11.44

Texas

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Minor, W, 4-3

6

7

4

4

1

4

99

5.63

Claudio, H, 6

1

1

0

0

0

0

14

4.32

Martin, H, 8

1

1

0

0

0

2

14

4.24

Diekman

<AF>2/3

1

0

0

1

2

18

4.08

Kela, S, 11-11

<AF>1/3

0

0

0

1

0

9

4.42

Minor pitched to 1 batter in the 7th. Inherited runners-scored—Flynn 1-0, Claudio 1-1, Kela 2-0. Umpires—Home, Jeff Kellogg; First, Marvin Hudson; Second, Chad Whitson; Third, Quinn Wolcott. T—3:07. A—35,105 (49,115).

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