Portland Sea Dogs Pitcher Casey Kelly Struggles With Control Problems

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Red Sox pitching prospect Casey Kelly looked like a seasoned veteran in the first inning of Monday’s Portland Seadogs game televised on NESN. A sinking fastball on the outside corner put away the first batter swinging, before the hitter-turned-pitcher coaxed two harmless groundouts to close out the frame.

But Kelly failed to exhibit the same kind of maturity on the mound from then on. A five-run second inning — made possible by six straight New Britain Rock Cats’ hits — doomed the young righty, and Sea Dogs skipper Arnie Beyeler yanked Kelly two batters into the fifth.

He exited with a 5.30 ERA on the season.

Control problems were the culprit. Not that he had issues finding the plate. Rather, he couldn’t help but catch too much of it.

Rock Cats third baseman Yangervis Solarte got everything started with a one-out single in the second. Then second baseman Steve Singleton and right fielder Mark Dolenc laced a double and a single, respectively, on pitches out over the plate.

Another base hit by catcher Allan de San Miguel brought the shortest player in professional baseball — 5-foot-3 shortstop Chris Cates — to the plate for an at-bat that exemplified Kelly’s inability to throw an effective pitch outside of the strike zone.

Ahead 0-2 on the light-hitting Cates (.170 batting average), Kelly pounded the zone with fastballs, mixing in a few off-speed pitches. Catcher Luis Exposito set up on the outside corner, but Cates was able to extend his arms to fight off pitches that drifted in toward the plate. After working a 2-2 count, Cates skied a high fastball over the left fielder’s head for a double.

Cates has never hit a professional homer, and his shot off Kelly may be as close as he’s come to his first.

Even in an outing in which he gave up six runs in four innings, there were moments that Kelly shined. But when you can’t put away a kid like Cates up 0-2, there’s clearly a disconnect between your stuff and your mental approach.

It appears the grand experiment has only just begun.

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