Right-hander Joe Kelly recorded a career-high 7 1/3 innings on Saturday. (Getty Images)
When Joe Kelly took the mound in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game against the Yankees, he entered previously uncharted territory. Never before had he pitched more than seven innings in a big league start.
Yet when he retired the first batter of the eighth, he wasn’t exactly in a mood to call it a day. He’d entered the inning with 81 pitches. He sniffed nine innings.
“I’ve never thrown a complete game and it’s something I really, really wanted to do today,” Kelly acknowledged after the contest. “It didn’t happen so mentally I was kind of angry and frustrated at myself.”
What had been a dominant outing unraveled quickly. Kelly, armed with 10-1 lead through 7 1/3 innings and still pumping 98 mph gas for strikes, permitted four straight singles, and when the dust settled on the inning, his final line revealed a four-run yield in those 7 1/3 frames en route to an eventual 10-4 Sox win.
“I kind of gave it away today. I mean I’m glad we won. It’s definitely good to go out on a win and go deep into the game,” said Kelly. “But the end of the day it’s something I have to do better at. I want to throw a complete game really, really bad. I’ve never had one in my career and it’s just something that makes me frustrated at myself, letting it get away a little bit at the end.”
Others in the Sox clubhouse were less pessimistic about the outing. They saw a starter who showed a 99 mph fastball in the first inning to punch out Derek Jeter and who sustained that sort of heat (99 mph in the seventh, 98 in the eighth) over the course of his outing. His fastball, combined with a changeup that elicited swings and misses from lefties and a curveball and slider to keep hitters off balance, made a favorable impression over his 10 starts following his July 31 trade from St. Louis to the Sox, during which Kelly went 4-2 with a 4.12 ERA while averaging more than six innings an outing. His place as a Sox starter seems secure for next year.
“I feel very good about Joe’s presence in the rotation. It’s premium stuff,” said John Farrell. “I think he’s gained some consistency of the use to his fastball, particularly to the glove side of the plate. When you single out each of the pitches in his repertoire, it’s premium stuff.”
“He’s been great. I think he’s been really good. He’s a really talented guy, has great stuff and you can tell that he’s really confident out there, throwing strikes with all his pitches, especially his heater,” added Sox first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig, who was Kelly’s teammate in St. Louis and was traded with him to Boston at the trade deadline. “I think the world of him. I think he’s got a great fastball, really good changeup and the slider and curveball are good, too. I think his off-speed stuff can be just as good as his fastball when he’s feeling really good. I enjoy playing behind him and I think everyone else does, too.”
While Kelly missed months of this season due to a hamstring injury, he was able to see promise in his time with the Sox given the steadiness with which he delivered innings. He pitched into at least the seventh for the Sox in five of his 10 outings, including four of his last five. That, Kelly suggested, represents a building block for a key goal going forward.
“It’s definitely something I want to do throughout the rest of my career. Eventually I want to be a guy who throws 200 innings and takes the mound every fifth day healthy and win more games than I lose,” Kelly said. “I want to go out there and hopefully be healthy. I’m just looking forward to having a full year here and seeing all the guys we traded for and all these guys for a full year and it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to and it’s going to be fun.”