Joe Kelly took the bump for the first time in a Boston Red Sox uniform playing in his old yard against his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Facing his former teammates, Kelly turned in a very good performance, going seven innings and allowing just one run on three hits and four walks while striking out two. Out-dueling Shelby Miller — the best man in his wedding — he got the winning decision in the Sox 2-1 victory.
The 26-year-old righty, acquired from the Red Birds on Thursday in the deal that sent John Lackey out to the Midwest, was very impressive. There was a lot of good to take from the outing. His stuff was good, going high-90s with the fastball. The highlight of his repertoire was a heavy sinker that topped out around 93-94 MPH.
One could easily see why many are high on the newly-acquired arm expected to be a fixture in the Sox rotation for years to come, as Kelly is under the team’s control until 2018. One could also see see how Kelly put up such good numbers in St. Louis, going 17-14 over 68 appearances (38 starts) with a 3.20 ERA.
Looking at such a good first impression with his new team, it’s hard not to get excited about the shiny new toy in the Red Sox rotation. And Kelly will have more opportunities to make a splash and create buzz within Red Sox Nation.
Assuming he starts every fifth game, Kelly’s next opponent will be another National League team in the Cincinnati Reds, which is currently missing Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. He finally gets into the American League his next time out, but it’s against the Houston Astros, who after a stretch of good baseball have returned to looking like a 100-loss club.
The test will come as Kelly gets deeper into the American League and faces deeper lineups like the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels. These batting orders are complete one-through-nine, especially on the back third, where many AL teams carry legitimate major league bats as opposed to the pitcher and scrubs you see throughout the NL.
Teams will take advantage of mistakes. Wildness like Kelly showed at times Wednesday (53 of 97 pitches for strikes, four walks) will turn into long innings and short outings.
If Kelly goes out and gets hit hard by the Blue Jays or Orioles, teams he is set to face at the end of August and early September, it’s doesn’t mean he can’t pitch in the American League, but it is an indication of what we can expect from the pitcher. The excitement about Kelly is there, as it should be, as there were lots of good to take from the start. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves on him.