Red Sox injury update: Joe Kelly and Carson Smith progressing well

BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Joe Kelly
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Joe Kelly /

The Boston Red Sox bullpen is in need of reinforcements, and two of their injured relievers are on their way to returning.

Other than Craig Kimbrel, who’s really in a league of his own, Joe Kelly has been the best reliever in the Red Sox bullpen this season. When he landed on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain last Saturday, many believed that the Red Sox bullpen would crumble without their eighth inning man. Things haven’t been that dire, but the weaknesses of their earlier arms have been exposed.

Add in the exhaustion of pitching 30.1 innings over the club’s seven days since the All-Star break, and the importance of Kelly’s return becomes much greater.

The good news is that the right-hander is progressing and has responded well to treatment. He hasn’t resumed any activity that would put a serious strain on his lower body, like running or weight lifting, but he has continued throwing from flat surfaces. After the conclusion of the Red Sox four-game series with the Blue Jays, Kelly will travel with them to the West Coast so the team can continue to monitor his progress.

He’ll be eligible to return to the roster as early as Saturday, but things would have to really accelerate between now and then for him to make it back that early. Red Sox manager John Farrell was unsure whether Kelly would need a rehab stint when asked by reporters on Wednesday, which could accelerate his progression. Nevertheless, he still hasn’t thrown off a mound and until he does so, we won’t be able to gauge a reasonable date of return.

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The news that he’s progressing well is still positive though, especially for the team’s second best bullpen arm. In 36.1 innings, Kelly has pitched to a 1.49 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, with 26 strikeouts and a .188 batting average against. The strikeouts are surprisingly low given the quality of Kelly’s stuff and his high strikeout rate last season. Splitting time as a starter and reliever, he maintained a 10.8 K/9 rate in 2016. His FIP (3.38) and xFIP (4.05) indicate that he is due for some ERA regression once back on the roster, but until the Red Sox make a bullpen acquisition, he’s the best they’ve got ahead of Kimbrel.

Meanwhile, Carson Smith threw his second post-All Star bullpen Wednesday and is inching closer to his long-awaited return to the bullpen. Having sat out for more than a year now, he’ll need a rehab stint to prepare himself for game situations of course, but it finally seems as though we’ll see him pitch in a Red Sox uniform this season.

Smith came close to a rehab stint early last month, but a shoulder setback impinged some of the progress he had made. Like Kelly, he’ll be traveling with the team to the West Coast where he will throw his third bullpen on Friday.

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From there, Farrell and company will determine his readiness for a rehab stint. If Smith is, in fact, ready to go, expect him to work a minimum of three rehab appearances before easing his way back into the major leagues. He last pitched on May 3, 2016, but was dominant during the 2015 season while a member of the Seattle Mariners. If he’s able to come close to that form, he’ll be a major addition to the Red Sox bullpen down the stretch.