Boston Red Sox starter Joe Kelly pitching for his future


Remember back in spring training when Joe Kelly proclaimed that he would win the Cy Young award? He actually meant he’d win the award for the second half of the season.

Fine, so there isn’t actually an official award for best second-half starter, so Kelly won’t be taking home any hardware this season. That doesn’t change the fact that the right-hander has been one of the league’s best for over a month now.

Kelly won his 8th straight start Wednesday night, giving him the longest winning streak by a Red Sox pitcher since some guy named Pedro Martinez back in 1999. That’s more wins piled up in consecutive starts than Curt Schilling (2004) and Josh Beckett (2007) had in championship seasons.

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It wasn’t long ago that Kelly appeared to be a lost cause, banished to Pawtucket to try to find himself. It was assumed that his future would be heading for a permanent bullpen role, where his limited arsenal would make him less of a liability and he would be able to harness the full velocity of his blazing fastball in shorter outings.

Kelly was recalled shortly after the All-Star break when the Red Sox rotation was in need of reinforcements. His return was hardly triumphant, as he surrendered 8 earned runs over 8.2 innings during his first two starts after rejoining the rotation. Same old Joe Kelly, groaned Red Sox fans.

Then the calendar flipped to August, which seemed to flip a switch inside Kelly. Suddenly he was a different pitcher, as he began a path that has led to this impressive winning streak. It began with an 11-7 slug-fest against the Tampa Bay Rays in which Kelly coughed up 5 runs, but he stuck around long enough to be credited with the victory. Kelly hasn’t stopped winning since, while giving up 2 runs or less and lasting over 5 innings in each of his following 7 starts.

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Kelly began the month of August with a 2-6 record and an ERA that inflated to 6.11 following that start against the Rays. In the seven starts since then Kelly has posted a sparkling 1.63 ERA, dropping his season ERA to a less panic-inducing 4.70. He is the only pitcher in the American League with 8 wins since the break and his only loss in that span came in his return to the majors on July 22. That’s now over 7 weeks since Kelly has taken the loss in a game!

Where has this guy been all season? Believe it or not, it’s the same pitcher with the same arsenal of weapons at his disposal. He’s just using them better now. Kelly got himself into trouble earlier this season by relying too heavily on his fastball. While he has an impressive heater that can touch 100 MPH, he had become too one-dimensional. Now that he’s mixing in more of his secondary pitches it has made him less predictable.

"“It’s a process for somebody that has that type of fastball strength to realize you got to work on some secondary stuff,” Red Sox interim manager Torey Lovullo told “And it’s just clicked. I know that Ryan Hanigan and he got on a great roll together and I think Ryan Hanigan deserves a little bit of credit in this as well.”"

Hanigan’s influence can’t be understated. The veteran catcher missed significant time due to injury this season and the Red Sox pitching staff sorely missed his game-calling abilities behind the plate. Blake Swihart has a bright future, but the rookie catcher doesn’t have the experience to manage pitchers the way Hanigan can.

So what does this mean for Kelly’s future? Has he shown enough over these last 8 starts to secure a spot in the rotation heading into 2016? That will likely depend on how Dave Dombrowski approaches the free agent and trade markets, as his quest to find a reliable front line starter could lead to at least one pitcher from the current staff getting squeezed out. Even if there is no room in a revamped rotation for Kelly, his promising turn-around has shown he has the potential to make an impact on this team in some capacity.

Cy Kelly? Not quite, but a strong finish is helping to erase those early struggles and earn him consideration for next year’s roster.