How Boston Red Sox will handle rotation without Joe Kelly


The Red Sox lost another piece of their rotation when it was announced Wednesday that Joe Kelly would be shut down for the season. Kelly was knocked out of the game in the third inning of his last outing with tightness in his right shoulder, prompting the team to send him back to Boston for more tests.

This throws a wrench in the team’s plans, as the Red Sox had hoped to use a six-man rotation for the remainder of the season in order to help manage the innings of Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez. Both rookies have already exceeded their career-highs for innings pitched, with Owens currently at 166 innings and Rodriguez at 158 combined in the big leagues and Pawtucket this season. The Red Sox like to avoid having young pitchers increase their workload by over 20 percent, which gives them each only a few more starts at most before reaching those innings caps.

More from Red Sox News

With little left to play for this season, being cautious their young pitchers is the right approach. This is different from what the Mets are currently dealing with regarding the usage of Matt Harvey down the stretch, or the decision the Nationals made a few years ago to shut down Stephen Strasburg before the playoffs. Those teams had to weigh the risk of the potential injury concerns that come with overworking a young pitcher against the value they would provide in the postseason. The Red Sox won’t be playing in October this year, so it’s not worth the risk to push their young pitchers.

With Kelly out of the picture it makes limiting the innings for the rest of the rotation more complicated. They no longer have the option of using six starters, with Clay Buchholz likely sidelined for the rest of the year and Steven Wright still dealing with concussion symptoms.

So what do the Red Sox do now? They could move Matt Barnes back into the rotation, but the last attempt to do so ended poorly. Barnes has already bounced between roles several times this year through stints in Boston and Pawtucket, to the determent of his development. He also hasn’t started a game in nearly a month and hasn’t pitched deeper than 5.1 innings in a start at any level this season.

More from BoSox Injection

Interim manager Torey Lovullo indicated that one solution they are considering is having at least one game down the stretch where they use the bullpen for the entire game. While that may seem like a radical idea on the surface, it’s not all that different from how they were forced to handle Kelly’s last start after he exited in the 3rd inning of a game that ended up lasting 13 innings. Craig Breslow and Jonathan Aro stepped up with multi-inning efforts, so the team could turn to either of them to do so again.

The Red Sox have no shortage of options in the bullpen with the expanded rosters in September. There are as many as 11 healthy relievers at their disposal, which should be plenty to get through a game as long as Lovullo manages them wisely and they avoid another marathon extra-innings affair.

As the Red Sox start to shut down more players it will require Lovullo to be more flexible with his roster. With just over two weeks left in the season it should be manageable to work around the absence of Kelly and the others that are already lost for the year. They just need to get creative.