Are the Boston Red Sox done with Joe Kelly?

May 27, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) looks to first base in the third inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
May 27, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) looks to first base in the third inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /

Joe Kelly’s demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket may be a sign that he’s had his last chance to secure a rotation spot with the Boston Red Sox.

If there is one thing we’ve learned about the new regime making the decisions for the Boston Red Sox it’s that they have no tolerance for poor performance. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you make, if you don’t perform then you risk losing your spot to someone that can get the job done.

We saw it this spring when the Red Sox benched struggling veteran Pablo Sandoval in favor of the unproven Travis Shaw. Even before Sandoval went down with a season-ending injury, Shaw was drastically outproducing the former All-Star with the $95 million contract. We saw it again this past week when the Red Sox banished Clay Buchholz to the bullpen, ending his near decade run as  a mainstay in the team’s rotation.

Now here we are again, with Joe Kelly perhaps using up his last chance to stick in the rotation. The Red Sox optioned Kelly to Triple-A Pawtucket Wednesday night after the right-hander was shelled for 7 runs in 2 1/3 innings. Kelly was practically packing his bags from the moment John Farrell trotted out to the mound to mercifully pull him in the third inning.

This latest disastrous outing pushed Kelly’s ERA to a bloated 8.46 through six starts, which would easily rank last in the majors among starters if a stint on the disabled list hadn’t kept him from pitching enough innings to qualify. Despite the results, or lack thereof, Kelly still seemed blindsided by his demotion.

"“Obviously, I didn’t see it coming,” Kelly told reporters after the game, per ESPN’s Scott Lauber. “But you know, it’s the move they decided to make. I’m just going to go down there and try to continue to get better at what I do with commanding the baseball and just work on all my stuff and try to get back as soon as I can.”"

Kelly certainly has his work cut out for him. He flashed the potential the Red Sox have been waiting for in his first start back from the DL on May 21, holding the Cleveland Indians scoreless in a one-hit effort through 6 2/3 innings. Just when he got our hopes up that he could string together a run similar to the one he ended on last season, Kelly let us down again with two brutal starts.

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In his last two appearances, Kelly has struggled to locate his fastball and command his off-speed pitches. When he can’t get a good feel for his breaking ball he ends up turning to his heater, which has too often been missing wildly or being left over the middle of the plate. These are the type of mechanical flaws that the Red Sox hope he can work out down in the minors, but we’ve been through this drill before. Even when Kelly seems to have figured it out, his progress always seems to have an expiration date, sending us back to square one.

Boston’s rotation is now a man short, with Noe Ramirez getting called up to take Kelly’s roster spot and provide additional depth to the bullpen. It’s unclear who will take the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but due to a pair of off days next week the Red Sox don’t actually need a fifth starter until June 14. This allows the team the flexibility to carry an extra reliever or bat on the bench until they figure out what to do with that rotation spot.

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In the meantime, we’re left to speculate on what that decision may be. Does the team reluctantly turn to Buchholz again? Does Kelly get another shot after taking a turn in Pawtucket to try to work out his issues? Perhaps one of the other starters down in Triple-A is deemed more worthy of being given a shot.

Most of Red Sox Nation is hoping that the answer is none of the above, as the preference would be to acquire another starter on the trade market that could fit near the front of the rotation, rather than scrambling to find one that fills in the back end. The Red Sox have nearly two weeks to make a decision, which gets us that much closer to trading season. With several quality arms that could potentially be options the Red Sox may target, Dave Dombrowski may dive in early to get ahead of the market and patch up this rotation with a legitimate No. 2 starter.

A trade would be ideal, but even if the team fails to bring in a new starter to pair with ace David Price, there’s no guarantee that Kelly will get another shot. The organization must be as frustrated as we are with his maddening inconsistency.

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Kelly will go back to Pawtucket to work on his mechanics, but that’s where he should stay regardless of what he manages to figure out in his time there. We’ve been fooled by his brief flashes of brilliance before, but we know how this story ends. It’s time to give someone else – anyone else – a chance.