Casey Kelly, arguably the most highly touted prospect in the Red Sox farm system, got his first start of 2010 on Wednesday at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, pitching a perfect first inning against Northeastern University.
The 20-year-old Kelly, who just this winter decided to focus solely on pitching after years of also playing shortstop, struck out the first Huskies batter, got the second to ground out and struck out the third to finish off a solid 1-2-3 inning on just 10 pitches, seven of them strikes.
The Red Sox went on to pound Northeastern 15-0 behind a home run from David Ortiz, but much of the game's excitement surrounded Kelly and how well the youngster performed in his first ever pitching appearance for the parent club.
"I don't think I've stopped smiling since I got off the mound," Kelly told reporters afterward. "It was a good first outing. To have the crowd and some of the people playing defense behind me was a tremendous honor."
Though you'd never know it based on his effectiveness, Kelly had some butterflies before he took to the hill.
"I was very, very nervous going in," he added. "Once I got on the mound, the competition takes over and you want to go out there and do your best."
Victor Martinez, who caught Kelly and also doubled and scored a run against Northeastern, was equally impressed by the young right-hander.
"He has some great stuff," Martinez said. "He was throwing his fastball in and out, and mixed in his curveball and changeup. He threw just one inning, but he threw some pretty good quality pitches. I thought he did great."
Making Kelly's performance that much more impressive was the fact that he hadn't pitched in a game since the All-Star Futures Game last July 12 in St. Louis. When he returned to his team after the break, Kelly played shortstop the rest of the minor league season.
This December, though, Kelly and the Red Sox made the joint decision that he would become a full-time pitcher. In all, it had been nearly eight months since he last toed the rubber. But it didn't feel at all awkward.
"It felt like I've been doing it for a while now," he said. "I felt good out there. It's kind of like riding a bike, once you do it once, it comes back to you pretty fast."
Perhaps the best part about the outing, though, said Kelly afterward, was feeling like a part of the major league squad.
"Yeah, everybody was congratulating me," Kelly said. "That was kind of the coolest part. Just having John Lackey or Clay Buchholz come up and say, 'Good job' to you, that was a special moment for me."
Kelly is expected to next pitch for the Red Sox in relief on Sunday against the Orioles.