Red Sox: Joe Kelly excited to pitch when fans are more focused

Mar 29, 2016; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) delivers a pitch during the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at CenturyLink Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 29, 2016; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) delivers a pitch during the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at CenturyLink Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Joe Kelly is looking forward to his new role in the Boston Red Sox bullpen, where he’ll be able to pitch behind the intensity of a more focused crowd.

Joe Kelly expects to feel a bit differently when he takes the mound for the Boston Red Sox this season and it’s something he’s looking forward to.

After several failed attempts to harness his talent as a starter, the Red Sox have made the long overdue decision to shift Kelly to the bullpen. Pitching in shorter stints will allow him to dial up the velocity on his fastball, while preventing his limited arsenal from being exposed. He was outstanding in this role down the stretch last year but has never spent a full season as a reliever.

The 28-year old is expected to pitch primarily in the 7th inning, although he may get a shot in the 8th inning setup role if Tyler Thornburg isn’t ready to roll by Opening Day.

Most dominant late-inning relievers thrive on the adrenaline rush of high-leverage situations, where the margin for error is slim. The feeling surely resonates with Kelly as well, although he points out another reason why pitching late in games will be different from what he experienced as a starter.

Kelly told WEEI’s Rob Bradford on Monday that his focus is sharper on the mound late in games because the fans are more focused by that point.

"“When you go into the end of a ballgame there’s just a little bit different feeling. Fans are into the game more. They start to narrow down their focus,” explained Kelly. “Those middle innings, or at the beginning of the game, they’re seeing their friends, talking or eating. But after the eighth inning there are no more beer sales so I’m pretty sure they’re watching the game. They get louder and more intense, which feeds onto the player. They get more focus because the extracurricular stuff isn’t going on.”"

Once the beer vendors stop serving during the seventh inning, what else is there to do at Fenway Park besides…. watch baseball?

More from Red Sox News

Kelly’s theory actually makes some sense. How many times have you attended a game where you tried to sneak in a trip to grab a cold one or a Fenway Frank between innings, only to be stuck in line long enough that you end up missing part of the game? Throughout the game the concourse is filled with fans heading for the concession stands or taking a bathroom break.

How about those with seats in the upper levels in right field? It’s not the best vantage point to watch a game and the sweltering heat can be tough to endure on a summer afternoon without shade covering those sections. This may entice fans to retreat to the Budweiser roof deck behind them for part of the game. Some casual fans may even be interested in mingling by the bar, enjoying Fenway’s exciting atmosphere more than the game itself.

That all changes toward the later innings. Once the alcohol stops flowing and fans have had their fill of food from the grill, the attention spans start to drift back toward the action on the field. The intensity ramps up when the game is close, with the capacity crowd hanging on every pitch.

These are the moments that Kelly wants to shine in. He feeds off the energy from the crowd, which is far more intense when the fans aren’t busy feeding themselves.

This may seem absurd to the die-hards that never miss a play when they attend a game. With a fan base as passionate as Red Sox Nation, this describes a large percentage of the crowd, yet we have to keep in mind that it doesn’t pertain to everyone. Even Fenway has it’s share of so called “Pink Hat” fans – a term that isn’t meant to target female fans, but rather any casual bandwagon fan.

Even if the attention span of the crowd isn’t significantly different in the third inning than it is in the eighth, what matters is Kelly’s perception. If he feels more focused pitching in relief when he believes  the energy from the crowed is reaching its peak, that may be enough for him to thrive in his new role.

Next: Red Sox Strut: Spring Training edition

Opening Day is only a week away, so fans will soon get the opportunity to attend games at Fenway. Just make sure to pay attention to Kelly when he’s on the mound if you want him to be at his best.