Joe Kelly teased the Red Sox in 2016 with his high-90s fastball but would often lose his mechanics, missing the strike zone, and failed to use his secondary pitches enough. In six starts, he had an ERA of 8.46 while giving up 31 hits and 19 walks in 22.1 innings. He was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where the organization decided to transition him to a reliever, a role for which many in MLB thought he was best suited. He took to it quite well, posting a 0.56 ERA in 13 appearances with the PawSox. Kelly continued to be effective when called up in September, putting up a 0.64 ERA while striking out 20 and walking three in 14 innings for Boston to close out the season. He added three scoreless and hitless postseason frames against the Indians. Manager John Farrell attributed his success to an improved slider. His dominant finish to the season sealed Kelly's fate as a full-time, mid-to-late-inning reliever in 2017.
Kelly will be Boston's primary setup man if Tyler Thornburg (arm) is not ready by the regular season, Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reports. The Red Sox still feel Thornburg will be ready for the start of the season, though he may not be ready for the high-leverage situations for which they acquired him. In that event, Kelly will move up from the seventh inning to set up closer Craig Kimbrel.
Kelly walked one and struck out one in one scoreless inning Tuesday against the Blue Jays. Kelly has yet to give up a run in five spring innings over five appearances. He'll be a full-time reliever in 2017 and is in position, along with Tyler Thornburg, to set up for closer Craig Kimbrel. With Thornburg having been delayed the last couple of weeks due to arm issues, a product of adjusting to the training program of a new team, Kelly stands to increase his role should Thornburg open the season on the disabled list or in a state of reduced effectiveness.
Kelly shortened the arm action in his delivery last season when he was moved to the bullpen full time, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reports. After moving to the pen, Kelly had a 1.02 ERA and 1.019 WHIP, striking out 21 and walking five over 17.2 innings. Instead of raring back and seeing how high he could register on the radar gun, Kelly kept his arm closer to his body, an adjustment that led to a more consistent release point and allowed him to stay on top of his pitches. That in turn led to consistent location of those pitches -- a fastball directed to the outside corner, stayed on the corner. And likewise pitches thrown on the inside corner. No longer were his pitches leaking over the plate where they could get hammered. It's a whole new world for Kelly in the pen. He'll be an important setup piece for closer Craig Kimbrel and will get fireman duty in high-leverage, non-save situations.
Kelly's defined role for 2017 will be as a reliever, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports. After five years of tempting both the Cardinals and Red Sox as a potential starter, Kelly made the transition to full-time reliever during the second half of last season. The right-hander struck out 21 while allowing just two earned runs in 17.2 innings out of the pen. He and his high-90s fastball will be called on mostly for seventh-inning duty.
Kelly agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox on Friday, avoiding arbitration. The terms of the agreement were not made available. Kelly made the successful transition from starter to reliever last season and figures to occupy a mid-to-late-leverage role once again in 2017.