When the Red Sox received Joe Kelly from the St. Louis Cardinals in July of last season, the 26-year old was at a crossroads in his career as a major leaguer.
Over his two and a half year career in St. Louis, the right-hander spent nearly equal time between starting and relieving. Over 68 career appearances between 2012 and July of 2014, Kelly spent 38 games in the starters role, while entering the game as a reliever 30 times. While serving time as a starter, Kelly looked to be an encouraging young arm, posting an ERA of 3.46 in over 266.1 innings pitched. While in the bullpen, Kelly also held value for the Cardinals and averaged about a strike out per inning, along with a stingy 14 walks in 52 innings pitched.
While Kelly’s appearances reflected a dual role in St. Louis, the plan all along was to work the California native into the starting rotation. After being drafted in 2009, Kelly spent nearly his entire career as a starter in the Cardinals minor league system where he held a 3.85 ERA in 57 career games. Prior to being dealt to Boston, Kelly was being used exclusively as a starter after breaking camp with the team. During that seven game stint, Kelly appeared to be a streaky member of the starting rotation. While 4 of Kelly’s starts featured less than a run or less, three of them saw the opposition tally four or more runs. But in both good starts and bad, Kelly averaged an inflated 86 pitches over five innings of work.
Through his first 10 starts in Boston following the deadline deal, Kelly appeared to be settling into his role as a starter. While still struggling to control his pitch count, Kelly managed to average 6.1 innings of effective baseball per start. Between St. Louis and Boston, Kelly’s 2014 season featured a 4.20 ERA which was mirrored closely by a 4.37 FIP in 17 starts. Not terrific numbers, but respectable ones, especially for a starter just settling into the regular rotation.
This season, however, instead of taking another step forward Kelly has taken two steps back as a starting pitcher. In 9 starts this season, Kelly is back to being a streaky member of the starting rotation. In 4 games this season, Kelly has allowed 2 runs or less while averaging over 6 innings pitched. Conversely, the righty has allowed 5 runs or more in 5 trips to the mound. Kelly hit rock bottom in his latest outing against the Twins on Monday, in which he allowed 7 runs on 8 hits over an inning and a third.
Kelly’s ineffectiveness on the mound comes at a time when everyone in Boston’s starting 5 is beginning to figure things out. Thus, Kelly’s frequent blemishes have put the him under fire, which could perhaps prompt a roster move. The most common move that has been discussed features Kelly being relegated to the bullpen, and a pitching prospect promoted to the rotation.
It’s certainly not a farfetched possibility for Boston. Namely, Red Sox pitching prospects Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez have been terrific so far this year and seem to be banging on the MLB door. Both left-handers hold an ERA in the 2.90’s over their first 9 starts this season, and have anchored the Paw Sox rotation. However, since this is Johnson’s and Rodriguez’s first tenure in triple-A, the longevity of their success still needs to pass the test of time. But you figure, at worst, either southpaw could do what Kelly has done so far this season.
With an upper 90’s fastball and equally impressive offspeed pitches, Kelly could be a terrific weapon out of the bullpen. Adding Kelly to the relief core would give Boston another hard throwing reliever to go along with Matt Barnes, Alexi Ogando and Junichi Tazawa. Unlike his possible cohorts, however, Kelly would hold the ability to go multiple innings as well; a feature the Red Sox bullpen is lacking. In turn, taking a chance and promoting Johnson or Rodriguez could add stability to the starting 5 a no cost to the team. It’s a small tweak that could pay dividends in both the rotation and the bullpen.
- Since taking over for the injured Justin Masterson, knuckle-baller Steven Wright has been a breath of fresh air in the Red Sox starting rotation. Although he’s started just two games for Boston this season, the results should force the team to take an extended look at the right-hander. (Steven Wright has earned a permanent role on the Red Sox)
- Boston’s decision to designate reliever Anthony Varvaro for assignment in late April left some scratching their heads, but over the weekend the truth became known. The right-hander was returned to the Red Sox from the Cubs after it was revealed that he tore his flexor tendon. (Vavaro returned to Red Sox from Cubs)
- A happy David Ortiz is a productive David Ortiz, and nobody knows this more than John Farrell. Despite a slow start to the season, the hulking DH and his manager remain confident that things will turn around for both Ortiz and the team. (John Farrell, David Ortiz still banking on…David Ortiz)
- John Farrell wants pitchers to feel safe about throwing the baseball as hard as they can. (John Farrell advocates for approved substances to enhance grip)
- Tweet of the day: Don’t break that bat, Nap.