If only Joe Kelly could skip the first inning.
Kelly, who overcame a shaky first inning in his first start with the Boston Red Sox, again stumbled out of the gate Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. The struggles didn’t linger too long, though, and Kelly ultimately lasted six innings as the Red Sox defeated the Reds 3-2.
“I thought he had very good stuff tonight. He had better stuff tonight than his first start over in St. Louis,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Tuesday’s win. “He might have pitched a little bit fine early on. The two walks came back to haunt him a little bit. But I thought he settled in well and really got into a good rhythm. And like I said, three-plus pitches for strikes here tonight with very good fastball velocity.”
Kelly missed with seven consecutive pitches to open Tuesday’s game. Billy Hamilton walked, stole second base and took third base when catcher Christian Vazquez’s throw bounced past shortstop Xander Bogaerts and into center field. Jay Bruce then worked a free pass, paving the way for back-to-back RBI singles from Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco before Kelly even recorded an out.
It looked like Kelly was in for a long night until the right-hander minimized the damage with a double play and an inning-ending strikeout.
“Just missed with some close pitches,” Kelly said of his first-inning struggles. “The one to Bruce I thought was a little bit closer than the other ones, and that one turned into a walk. (I) just need to attack the bottom of the zone and get ahead of guys earlier than I did tonight to be a little bit more successful.”
Kelly allowed two more baserunners in the third inning but otherwise remained in control throughout his outing. Cincinnati’s two first-inning runs were their only tallies, which kept Boston in the game. Bogaerts eventually put the Red Sox on the scoreboard in the seventh inning with an RBI single. Yoenis Cespedes catapulted the Sox in front with a mammoth two-run homer in the eighth inning off reliever Jonathan Broxton.
Kelly didn’t factor into the decision, but six innings of two-run ball represents a very respectable effort, especially considering how the game began. Kelly surrendered five hits and walked three before being replaced by a pinch-hitter, Mike Napoli, in the top of the seventh inning. He struck out four, threw 103 pitches (57 strikes) and sat at around 93-95 mph with his fastball — though he touched 97 mph on the gun.
If you eliminate the first innings of his first two starts with Boston since being acquired in the trade that sent John Lackey to St. Louis, Kelly has allowed four hits over 11 shutout frames. He also has produced two hits, including an opposite-field single in the third inning of Tuesday’s game, and a stolen base. Kelly swiped third base in the third inning Tuesday after Brock Holt bunted him into scoring position.
“How often do we see pitchers on bases, first of all? Not very often,” Farrell said of Kelly’s steal. “He gets a base hit and then a heads-up play. (Reds starter Mat Latos) maybe took a little bit more time than normal, and he advances 90 feet. Just a good, heads-up, athletic play on his part.”
Kelly’s athleticism certainly has been on display through two starts with the Red Sox. More importantly, his pitching potential has been, too.
There have been a few minor hiccups, particularly early in his first two outings. But Kelly’s poise already is impressive.