Yesterday’s series finale against the Rangers represented the opportunity to tie the series at 2-2 and gain some potential momentum heading into June. The game had a more important meaning, though, as many reporters had suggested that this was starting pitcher Joe Kelly‘s last chance out of the rotation. And though Kelly was hardly a world-beater yesterday, he was able to keep the Red Sox in the game and may have bought himself at least another start.
From the start, Kelly’s outing looked like a typical debacle from a Red Sox starting pitcher. He walked Delino DeShields to start the game and went to three balls on second hitter Shin-Soo Choo before punching him out on a dirty change. Kelly did allow DeShields to score on a single from Prince Fielder, but he improved significantly from then on.
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Kelly did allow another run in the third inning, but it was unearned after an uncharacteristic error by Dustin Pedroia. After the first inning, that unearned run was all that Kelly would allow in five more innings.
Though Kelly didn’t quite have his best stuff or his best command yesterday, he was generally effective. In fact, the biggest knock on Kelly was that he was relatively inefficient, tossing 100 pitches and only lasting for five innings.
Still, after a decent performance yesterday, the Red Sox should give Kelly at least one more turn in the rotation. Though he wasn’t particularly efficient on his own, his defense did hurt him with a pair of errors behind Kelly and he may have been able to pitch into the sixth inning without those defensive mistakes.
There’s still a debate about whether Kelly would be more effective pitching in relief and those concerns have been more prevalent than ever recently. In his most recent start before yesterday, he allowed 7 runs in just 1.2 innings, seeing his ERA spike by a full run. And Brian Johnson followed that atrocious outing by Kelly with six perfect innings for Triple-A Pawtucket, continuing an incredible season by the stocky southpaw.
Even if Kelly might be a dominant reliever, though, there’s no doubt that he would be more valuable as a solid starter. Even mid-rotation starters are tough to find compared to dominant relievers (who often grow from failed starters such as Andrew Miller and Wade Davis). Kelly could be the next name on that failed starter turned elite reliever list, but it looks like we’ll wait at least another start before we see that transition.