Kela eager to help anchor Rangers' bullpen

Right-hander confident after postseason run during rookie season

Kela eager to help anchor Rangers' bullpen

ARLINGTON -- A number of Rangers are spending the winter working out at a local high school. Reliever Keone Kela is there with them, following a program devised by strength and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez.

All signs so far are pointing to Kela feeling good, having survived a rigorous rookie season as a setup reliever.

"Everybody has their specific workout that they're doing," Kela said. "Jose Vazquez gave me a workout program that works best for me so that's the program I'm following. As far as a throwing program, I'm following the one I've been following.

"I would say I took a month and a half off, really just kind of relax and get away from the game. But after that, I picked up my running and stuff back in mid-November, didn't hit the weights until Dec. 1. It has been the same. Everything is great. The elbow is fine."

The elbow is the biggest concern. The Rangers had to monitor Kela carefully in the final month of the season and into the playoffs to guard against excessive fatigue. There were nights when Kela was unavailable.

But Kela was still outstanding in the second half with a 1.19 ERA in 26 games after the All-Star break and three innings over three appearances in the American League Division Series against the Blue Jays.

"I never experienced a big league season," Kela said. "It was a huge workload. Now that I understand it, now that I have time to sit back and evaluate it, my season, who I am, my development, stuff like that, this offseason has been really good to me. I had a lot of ups and downs, early in the season I got my tail kicked a little bit ... but it was a great season and a greater offseason."

As a rookie, Kela helped carry the Rangers' bullpen through the first four months. Once the club reinforced its bullpen at the non-waiver Trade Deadline by acquiring Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman, Texas was able to give Kela 10 days off in the Minor Leagues. Kela said it was "big" in helping him get through the season.

When it was over, Kela had pitched in 68 games, the second most for a rookie in the AL and fourth most by a rookie in club history. Kela finished 7-5 with a 2.39 ERA and the confidence that he can hold up for a full season.

"Definitely," Kela said. "I think having the opportunity to pitch that much showed the capability of my body to myself. It also opens up some doors to exceed that. Now that I know I can pitch 60 games, can I pitch 60-70-75, go deeper into the postseason?"

Kela is eager to get started.

"Much more eager," Kela said. "Just because getting the experience, that taste of playoff baseball, you crave it. I never understood baseball until I had the opportunity to play postseason baseball. Playing baseball in Venezuela was awesome, but playing postseason baseball here in the States was awesome, especially in Toronto."

Kela will be an integral part of the Rangers' bullpen this season, but they may not have to rely on him as much as they did last year. They have Dyson and Diekman for a full season, they have added Tom Wilhelmsen and Tony Barnette this winter and they have Tanner Scheppers coming back from injury.

But Texas also has a confident second-year reliever returning who has the ability to dominate in the late innings.

"Even last year, it may have been far-fetched because I didn't understand what I was getting into at the Major League level," Kela said. "But I always believed I was going to go out there and give it my all. Every time I took the mound, I always had that mentality to excel to the best of my ability.

"Last year, I felt I was one of the guys. If I was able to be on the team and have a jersey, I was one of the guys. They believed in me to be one of the best, so moving forward to this season, I still believe I'm one of the best."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.