Red Sox Joe Kelly’s Shoulder Injury Opens New Qs


The Boston Red Sox were struck a big blow as their starting pitcher Joe Kelly left last night’s game in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles with a shoulder injury. What does this injury mean for the Red Sox for the rest of 2015 and the start of 2016?

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Last night started like the last eight games that Kelly won in a row, he was mowing down the Orioles just like many other opposing lineups. Jen McCaffrey of reported that “When the third inning started, though, Kelly’s fastball velocity dipped from 94-95 mph to 92 mph. He allowed a single, a two-run homer and then three more singles before interim manager Torey Lovullo and a team trainer visited the mound.” Kelly was pulled before more damage could be done to himself.

Officially, Kelly left the game with right shoulder tightness. If his arm would have held up, Kelly would have had a chance to match a Red Sox record with nine consecutive wins, “a mark set by Pedro Martinez in his 1999 Cy Young season.”

Kelly’s fastball in the first two innings was much faster than the beginning of the third and he labored over his offspeed pitches, choosing to throw fastballs more frequently because they would be slightly easier to throw. With the different angles required for a pitcher to turn his shoulder in order to throw changeups, curves, and other offspeed pitches, Kelly’s shoulder was clearly the anatomy in trouble to anyone watching him wince in pain and discomfort.

What does this mean for the Red Sox, going forward?

It depends on what part of the shoulder is troubling Kelly, as the joint is very complicated and hard to remedy.

Sep 15, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, the club is saying that they think (or hope) that it’s just tightness, a sign of fatigue. Kelly’s been working on his game throughout the season, including stints in Triple-A Pawtucket and nagging injuries. It’s very possible that it is just a tired set of muscles that have been working for a long number of games, bullpen sessions, and practices to break down his mechanics. Considering Kelly has been not relying on his fastball as much in the last month, which has been the very key to his startling success in August and early September, it’s possible that some muscles in his shoulder have been used more than ever and have broken down. It would just mean that they need time to rebuild stronger than ever.

When your muscles are used, they are actually breaking down each time, stretching and breaking the fibres apart. Protein and other cell rebuilders come in and slot themselves between the breakages, so the muscles become larger and stronger. If Kelly’s shoulder has run its course, he just needs to sit and rest to let his body fix itself, without Red Sox Nation having a panic attack.

Then again, shoulder ‘tightness’ is pretty vague.

Oftentimes, when a team says that word for a pitcher’s throwing arm, they mean that they are not really sure what the injury is. They just tell the media that so the story stays vague until the team discovers what’s really going on. In many cases, that ‘tightness’ becomes major surgery, whether in the elbow or the shoulder, sidelining the pitcher for months if not a year. Even when pitchers comes back, they sometimes never recover to the form that they once had on the mound.

The Red Sox already had some ‘tightness’ and ‘fatigue’ concerning Clay Buchholz, and look how long it’s been for him to come back. He may or may not even pitch again in 2015, which has already sent debate waves all over the baseball world, before Kelly’s injury.

Now, with Kelly suffering a vague diagnosis, it’s uncertain at present what will happen. Kelly will need to be reassessed by the medical experts. A rotator cuff injury? Could mean surgery, six weeks in a sling and months of rehab. Any major injury could spell doom for the young man and the new fans whom have been won over in his last eight appearances.

Yet, for now, it’s just tightness. Likely just muscle fatigue from using muscles more frequently than he has in his career. If it doesn’t turn out to be anything worse than that, the debate can remain whether Kelly is better suited for a starter job or a reliever, possibly even a future closer, next season. However, if it’s more serious than first thought, the debate then becomes what Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox president of baseball operations, will do about it. He’d have an asset that may not be 100% ready for a starter or reliever job in April 2016. Changes already need to be made, but this injury is a headache that Dombrowski, undoubtedly, wishes that he won’t have during the MLB winter meetings, this offseason.

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