Red Sox: Joe Kelly is here to save the bullpen


The Boston Red Sox have recalled Joe Kelly to work out of the bullpen. He takes the place of reliever Heath Hembree, who has been optioned to Pawtucket.

It appears that the Boston Red Sox have finally figured out how to properly utilize the talents of Joe Kelly.

Kelly has been recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to provide reinforcement to a battered bullpen that is missing several key pieces. He’ll take the place of struggling right-hander Heath Hembree, who went from being one of the team’s most trusted relievers to a liability in the blink of an eye.

Since he was acquired midway through the 2014 season, Kelly has been used exclusively as a starter. It only took them 218 innings over 41 starts, during which time he produced an ERA a tick below 5.00, to realize that the 28-year old wasn’t destined to be an effective part of this rotation.

He’ll now work in relief for the first time since 2013, when he was still a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. In his career he has made 30 relief appearances, compiling a 3.25 ERA in 52 2/3 innings.

Despite solid results as a reliever, the Red Sox have stuck through several rough patches with Kelly as a starter, convinced that he would eventually blossom. It seemed that their patience was about to pay off when Kelly reeled off eight straight wins in the second half of last season, but that turned out to be fools gold. He struggled out of the gate this season and has been knocked around to the tune of a career-high 8.46 ERA in six starts.

More from Red Sox News

Kelly has dealt with a couple of injuries this year as well. Following his return for a recent groin injury, the decision was made to convert him into a reliever. The results based on the limited sample we saw in Pawtucket were encouraging – five scorless innings with nine strikeouts and only one walk.

Scouts always raved about Kelly having great “stuff” on the mound, highlighted by a blazing fastball that can reach the upper 90’s. One of his biggest issues is that he has a rather limited arsenal beyond the heater, which has made navigating opposing lineups multiple times difficult. That won’t be a concern out of the bullpen, where he can let loose with his fastball, cranking it up to maximum velocity.

If Kelly were to be of any value to this team in 2016, it was going to have to be out of the bullpen. With the addition of Drew Pomeranz, combined with Eduardo Rodriguez showing signs of turning things around, the rotation doesn’t have a spot open for Kelly.

The bullpen could certainly use him though. The Red Sox have already lost Carson Smith for the season and are expected to be without Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara for at least a few more weeks.

Then there is Hembree, who was arguably the team’s best reliever in the first half of the season, posting a 2.00 ERA over 36 innings. Since the break, the results have turned drastically. Over his last three appearances he has allowed 2 runs on 7 hits, while recording only 2 outs. The Red Sox are hoping that he can work out his issues in Pawtucket before returning to help this team down the stretch.

Or perhaps he simply needs some rest, considering that his 37 1/3 innings give him the second highest workload among Red Sox relievers, trailing only Matt Barnes, who is stretched out to pitch multiple innings.

Next: Sale over everyone else

With Hembree working on getting himself back on track, the Red Sox are banking on Kelly to fill a vital role in the bullpen. The decision came more out of necessity than any great epiphany that Kelly would be more effective as a reliever, but in any case, the team finally made the right choice when it comes to Kelly’s role.