Red Sox: Joe Kelly and Carson Smith nearing potential returns


If it feels like it’s been forever, it has, but the pair of Boston Red Sox relievers are nearing a return to the major leagues.

Bullpen reinforcements look to be on the way for the Red Sox. Former setup man Joe Kelly is expected to throw one inning in a rehab outing Wednesday for Triple-A Pawtucket. Depending on the outcome, he could be activated from the disabled list this weekend.

Meanwhile, Carson Smith is expected to face live batting on Thursday, after a pair of setbacks derailed the progress he had made in June. If all goes well in his session, he could make his first rehab appearance this weekend as well.

Kelly, who has been out since the All-Star break with a left hamstring strain has been one of the more reliable relievers in the Red Sox bullpen this season.  In 36.1 innings pitched, he has a 1.49 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 1.101 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts to 16 walks. His rate of 6.4 K/9 is nearly two strikeouts lower than his career rate as a reliever, but that hasn’t prevented him from finding success. Rather than rely on his high-90s fastball to generate punch outs, Kelly has significantly increased his ground ball rate over the past two seasons resulting in just a .228 opponent BABIP and 99.1% left on base percentage.

Prior to landing on the DL, Kelly had assumed the setup role in the Red Sox bullpen, pitching in the eighth inning in his final five appearances before the injury. Before allowing two earned runs in the appearance that ultimately put him on the DL, he had been on a 21.1 inning scoreless streak that dated back to May 1.

As for Smith, who came to Boston in a trade with the Seattle Mariners two offseasons ago, he hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since May of 2016. A forearm injury and eventual Tommy John Surgery has derailed the past year and a half of his career. Things appeared to be coming up for him in June before shoulder discomfort resulted in the shutting down of his rehabilitation. He was finally able to restart his throwing program after the All-Star break and last threw on Monday.

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If all goes well for the two, the Red Sox could have as dangerous a bullpen as there is in the American League. They’ll join newly acquired reliever Addison Reed at the back of the bullpen, making it a long process for teams to get to closer Craig Kimbrel. When fully healthy, this years bullpen will probably take this order:

  • Craig Kimbrel
  • Addison Reed
  • Joe Kelly
  • Matt Barnes
  • Carson Smith
  • Heath Hembree
  • Fernando Abad
  • Robby Scott/Brandon Workman

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Of late, the Red Sox bullpen hasn’t been as effective as we’ve come to expect given their collective ERA. They still have the third best ERA in the major leagues but have allowed 19 runs in their past 33 innings pitched. Recent struggles make it all the more important that Kelly and Smith return as soon as possible.