Red Sox: Joe Kelly throws wild heat


Joe Kelly lit of the radar guns with triple-digit heat in his first relief appearance for the Boston Red Sox, but his command remains spotty.

The first relief appearance for Joe Kelly as a member of the Boston Red Sox came with mixed results. That can probably be expected from a pitcher adjusting to a new role, one he hadn’t been utilized in since he was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. With that in mind, there are a few takeaways from Monday night’s appearance against the Detroit Tigers.

What stands out most is that Kelly can throw some serious heat. The radar gun at Fenway Park clocked 11 of his 21 pitches at 100 mph or faster. We knew that moving to the bullpen would allow Kelly to crank up the velocity on his fastball, which has always been his best asset.

The problem for Kelly last night was that his uptick in velocity came at the expense of his control. He threw only 13 of his 21 pitches for strikes and struggled to establish his breaking ball. Most hitters will struggle to catch up to a triple-digit heater, but when Kelly fell behind in the count to the first batter he faced, Justin Upton was able to sit on the fastball, which he smoked to right-center for a triple.

The pitch that Upton hit was clocked at 101 mph, giving him only the fourth extra-base hit and the only triple to be hit off of a pitch of that velocity or higher by any hitter this season. The number of pitchers capable of throwing at that velocity is a short list, but it still highlights how difficult it is to make good contact against a flamethrower that can reach triple digits on the radar gun. This suggests that Kelly is capable of becoming a very dangerous reliever, but only if he can find a reliable secondary pitch to keep opposing hitters honest and avoid falling behind.

In his brief time in Pawtucket, Kelly was able to overwhelm minor league hitters with his fastball, striking out nine over five dominating scoreless innings. That may have led him to believe that simply gassing up his fastball would be enough to strike everyone out, but it’s not quite that easy at the big league level.

"“At the major-league level as opposed to the Triple-A level, he’s still going to have to use that breaking ball,” explained Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis, per the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. Even with plus velocity, you have to get them off it. With major-league hitters, as unbelievable as it sounds, you still have to mix pitches enough to keep them from cheating to put that fastball in play and hit a line drive like [Justin] Upton did.”"

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Kelly was visibly upset when he walked off the mound following his one inning of work in which he allowed a run on two hits. Clearly he’s motivated to perform out of the bullpen after he failed as a starter, which may have led to a bit too much adrenaline in his first relief appearance.

The key to his success will be harnessing that blazing fastball to combine elite velocity with at least a modicum of control. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw if you can’t locate your pitches – a lesson we all learned from Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn in the movie Major League. Perhaps Kelly needs to catch up on his 80’s sports films.

He showed both a slider and a curve in his outing on Monday, but both still need work. If Kelly can turn at least one of them into a reliable out pitch then it will help him put hitters away instead of allowing them to wait on a fastball over the middle.

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If Kelly is going to be of any value to the Red Sox this season, it’s going to have to be out of the bullpen. The velocity on his fastball last night is an encouraging sign, but he still has work to do in order to turn himself into a trusted option.