Joe Kelly (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s easy to assume that if you’re pitching in the late innings of a Major League Baseball game, and it’s close, there has been some importance placed on your abilities.
Heading into the regular season, Joe Kelly figures to be living that life, having been identified as the Red Sox’ eighth inning reliever, at least until Tyler Thornburg gets up to speed.
But Kelly, a closer in college, offered a fairly interesting take on why those high-leverage innings might feel a little different. And it has little to do with protecting a lead.
“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,” he told WEEI.com Monday morning. “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.
“It’s something I’m excited for and I think I can do it.”
Kelly is almost through his first spring training as a relief pitcher, having pitched in eight Grapefruit League games. After a strong start, he has run into some difficulties in two of his last three outings, walking three Twins Sunday.
But overall, Kelly explained that he has few concerns heading into the real games next week.
“It’s been smoother than I thought it would be,” said Kelly, who power-ranked his pitches by identifying his fastball being in the best shape, followed by the slider, curveball and then changeup.
“I thought with the multiple outings, not getting as much off time as a starter, I thought I would get a little more sore than I have been. Knock on wood, I’m feeling good and haven’t been getting sore like I thought I would coming into camp.”
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