The 2015 Boston Red Sox have made the city feel more like London, England, with the thick fog rolling through the old cobblestone streets. However, this August has been a different story. With the offense leading the majors in team batting average and scoring the third-most runs, the Red Sox just needed their pitching staff to come through for their 15 wins in the dog days of summer. Joe Kelly got six of those victories, shedding light through the dreaded darkness over Fenway Park.
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Does that translate to hope for 2016?
For Kelly, it could mean hope for sticking around in Massachusetts for a while longer. The 27-year-old righty has been tearing through opposing lineups lately, earning a perfect 7-0 record in seven starts, including his September appearance two nights ago. His 2.72 ERA has helped Kelly become one of the hottest pitchers in baseball. Only the Chicago Cubs’ Jake Arrieta has been hotter, being more like the sun itself by scorching teams for the same amount of wins and a 0.36 ERA.
For Boston and Red Sox Nation, they don’t need Kelly, or their other starting pitchers for that matter, to be Galactus-like on the mound, destroying any and all batters in their paths. They just need them to pitch better than they have for most of the season. Kelly seems to have found what works for him to succeed, but it wasn’t easy.
Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald reported the same sentiment about Kelly, recently. Lauber said, “It didn’t take long for Kelly’s pre-spring training forecast that he would be this season’s out-of-nowhere Cy Young recipient to turn into a punchline, especially in this space. The Red Sox right-hander posted a 5.67 ERA through 14 starts, earning only a ticket to Triple-A and no benefit of any doubts that he could be an effective big-league starter.”
The media pressure on Kelly skewed in multiple directions, even leading some people to believe that Kelly should be a reliever or even a closer, instead of a starting pitcher. BoSox Injection covered that thought as well, although stating that Kelly’s powerful fastball and fragile mind were not a good mix for that particular role, either. Lauber reported that “even Sox manager John Farrell called out Kelly for relying too heavily on a mid-90s fastball and not using the offspeed pitches every starter needs to get through a lineup more than once.”
However, Kelly’s lesson may have finally sunken into his head. After a demotion and some time in the minors, Kelly has returned a new man, “not always by blowing away hitters but rather by mixing his heater with secondary stuff. His offspeed pitch of choice has most often been his changeup, but he’s sprinkling in his curveball for strikes in important counts.” In a 38-inning stretch in August, Kelly had a 1.89 ERA. Imagine if that was consistent throughout the season?
Lauber believes that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is happy with young Eduardo Rodriguez, “and has expressed an interest in picking up Clay Buchholz‘ $13 million team option, health-permitting.” Rick Porcello‘s guaranteed four-year, $82.5 million contract makes him too rich for any other team’s blood, regardless of his poor play this season, even maybe for the New York Yankees’s deep pockets. That’s three pitchers in a starting rotation of four or five. If Dombrowski sets his sights on finding an ace in the free-agent hole, this winter, that leaves Kelly, Wade Miley, and prospect-turned starter Henry Owens to fight for a spot, let alone any of the prospects coming up through the Red Sox ranks.
Former Boston general manager Ben Cherington put together this rotation, but they failed him. If they would have come through, as many have in recent games, Cherington may not have needed to feel forced out, resigning his post before the season was over. He wasn’t fired, but it’s not like the team gave him a warm, fuzzy feeling when his players took the mound between April and July. Now, Kelly is pitching well, Rodriguez already looks like the future of the rotation today, and Buchholz was playing incredibly well before his season-ending injury. Dombrowski already dumped Cherington’s other starter Justin Masterson, but gained the conundrum of what to do with Owens’s future. Add to that Miley’s consistent play and Porcello’s albatross of a contract, and Dombrowski’s decisions after the post-season will not be as easy as it was looking before the trade deadline.
Kelly’s play, itself, holds a big key. We know that Dombrowski will not just unloaded the whole lot of them and retool the rotation; however, the fans won’t stand for much else other than an ace pitcher being added. If Kelly, moustache and all, looks more like what Cherington traded for, last season, than the bust that he looked like in the spring, Dombrowski may not need to pay for a David Price or any other pitcher looking for a record-breaking contract payout. If the rotation, including Kelly, can pitch how they look currently on paper, then a former ace on a bit of the cheaper side may be a Plan-B that can still work.
But, that’s the point. There is a whole month left to play, this season. Kelly’s got to be able to do it again and again. He’s not just pitching for his job in 2016, he’s pitching for the future of the Red Sox and how that will look, next year. Instead of spooking Boston like Mr. Hyde, Kelly needs to be the doctor to cure the fear.
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