Since Joe Kelly arrived in Boston at the 2014 trade deadline, success has not been a common theme in his career. For almost two years, the Red Sox were insistent on giving Kelly chance after chance in the starting rotation. There would always be a few glimpses of possible success here and there for the former St. Louis Cardinal, but he had never been able to fully put it together. Between injuries and a lack of success, it just seemed like Boston was going around in circles with the hope they could salvage another piece for a struggling starting rotation. It was obvious Kelly had the pure stuff to make scouts fall in love with him, but the inability to develop a feel for it on a consistent basis doomed him. The feel for pitching hasn’t ever seemed to be truly there for Kelly. Stuff alone had helped him survive in the National League, before facing even tougher competition in the American League and collapsing. Luckily, at the start of July, the Red Sox finally gave up on this frustrating experiment. While rehabbing from a groin injury suffered in Triple-A Pawtucket, Joe was put back in the bullpen for the first time since his days in St. Louis. So far, the results have been as good as one could have hoped for. With the major league bullpen in need of some help after injuries to Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly might be exactly what this team needs to bridge the gap until health is back on their side again.
In four appearances at Triple-A, Kelly has gone a total of five innings while striking out nine and walking just one. He has also given up five hits during this stretch, while not allowing a run and consistently sitting a tick or two below 100 mph. Kelly has also shown no issue handling the workload of a reliever, delivering his third scoreless inning in five days against the Columbus Clippers last night. Even though Joe is only facing minor league competition, it is the first time since he won eight straight consecutive starts at the end of 2015 that people are seeing any consistency out of the righty. Adding Kelly’s raw stuff to a bullpen that already includes three arms with closing experience could be deadly for other clubs come October. Getting a fresh arm into the mix for Boston could also do a lot of good for a team that has had to rely heavily on their bullpen at a few different points in 2016. August looks to be the biggest challenge for this bullpen so far. If the Red Sox hope to continue to hold down a playoff spot, there is no room to be blowing leads in a division where the difference between first and second place may only be a few wins.
In order for Joe Kelly to rejoin the Red Sox, though, somebody is going to have to be taken out of the bullpen and off the 25-man roster. At the moment, the two best candidates seem to be either Clay Buchholz or Heath Hembree. I think anyone who has watched Buchholz struggle in every role he’s filled this year, agrees it’s about time the Red Sox part ways with him. As of late, Clay’s relationship with the Red Sox has seemed to be on rather rocky terms due to the way he has been used since his demotion to the bullpen. Until this past Thursday, it had been 19 days since he had taken the mound last. There doesn’t seem to be any type of role for Clay anymore. He’s not trusted in any type of situation that can be considered stressful. In all reality, Buchholz is a depth piece shelved in the bullpen, that has done nothing to prove he can do any better than Henry Owens if asked to start once again. It’s been noted that teams have been inquiring about Clay as of late, with the hope maybe they can fix him, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI. At this rate, who knows how the Clay Buchholz saga will end. There’s a solid chance though, Buchholz hangs around due to his track record alone and the struggles the starting rotation has faced since spring training came to a close.
In that case, Hembree would be the next guy to fall. Heath played a huge role in this bullpen early in the season, as many guys were quickly overworked. As of late though, it has been clear that he has began to tire quite a bit. In six games this month, Hembree has pitched 4.1 innings, striking out only two and putting ten men on base. When looking at the rest of the bullpen besides Buchholz, Heath is the next piece that’s easiest to demote back to Pawtucket. As of right now, Kelly should have no issue putting together better results if given the chance. Getting the chance to see what value Kelly can bring to a major league bullpen will at the very least answer some questions Boston needs answers to. If worse comes to worst, Hembree is always waiting in the wings in case the Joe Kelly experiment takes another ugly turn.
Rumors have been swirling as of late that the Red Sox may be looking to add another bullpen arm, but if a deal is unable to be made, Joe Kelly will likely be the piece to give this team a shot in the arm. The Red Sox are in a win-now mode, so don’t think any value will be wasted in the minors if push comes to shove. For a team like Boston that has a weakness in the pitching department, it’s going to take every arm they have in order to make that push for October. Joe Kelly will get his shot soon, one way or another. As long as he keeps putting up strong numbers in Triple-A and that radar continues to read in the high 90s, he’ll force the hand of the big league club. It’s about time the Red Sox get some use out of the “stuff” Joe Kelly has made a career out of.