BOSTON — It didn’t take long for Joe Kelly to find his fastball, both literally and figuratively.
The Red Sox right-hander hadn’t pitched at the major league level since April 19 when he took the mound Saturday in his return from the 15-day disabled list. But Kelly showed no signs of rust, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians to pick up the win in a 9-1 rout at Fenway Park.
Kelly’s best asset in his 6 2/3 innings of scoreless work was his fastball, which he threw 49 times for an average velocity of 96.2 miles per hour, according to BrooksBaseball.net. He topped out at 98.2 mph, and the final pitch of his outing, which Juan Uribe hit into the right-center gap to break up his no-hit bid, clocked in at 96 mph.
Not too shabby for a guy who suffered a right shoulder impingement just over a month ago.
“I just felt super strong out there,” Kelly said after the game. “All the work that we’ve been putting in since I went on the DL, getting the shoulder stronger in the training room — just good to go out there and not even think about it and get a little more extension on the fastball and all the other pitches with that strong shoulder.”
Kelly, who struck out seven and walked three during his 104-pitch outing, always has had a lively arm and an impressive arsenal of pitches, but control often is his downfall. That appeared to be the case again in a 30-pitch fifth inning that saw him walk the bases loaded before escaping the jam thanks to a great bail-out play by catcher Ryan Hanigan.
“Just got a little bit out of my mechanics and tempo from the stretch,” Kelly said. “The pitches still felt good. … It was just a matter of not getting my timing down on my mechanics and just being a little too late on getting my arm extended.”
But Kelly pushed through the shaky inning, regaining control of his fastball to retire five of the next six batters he faced. (The one batter reached on an error by third baseman Travis Shaw.) Despite the troublesome fifth frame, Kelly threw 63 percent of his four-seam fastballs for strikes and 60 percent of his two-seamers for strikes, generating six swings-and-misses on the former.
The right-hander’s composure and consistent velocity both were positive signs for manager John Farrell.
“He carried his power throughout the outing,” Farrell said of Kelly. “From the first pitch of the ballgame through his last, I thought he was under control in terms of the energy in his delivery, where he didn’t overthrow his fastball. He was able to create the velocity, I think, in a very consistent manner here (Saturday).
“Just great to see him return to our rotation, and honestly, a chance to really give us a boost with his abilities.”
The Red Sox certainly could benefit from an effective Kelly in their rotation. Boston entered Saturday with a 4.19 team ERA, just 18th-best in Major League Baseball, and Clay Buchholz and David Price are among the starters who have struggled to find their groove in 2016.
Of course, it’s just one outing, but considering how Kelly threw his fastball — with great velocity and, for the most part, control — Saturday is a pretty good start.
“He’s got to come out of (Saturday) feeling, I’m sure, a big sense of comfort, knowing how he was physically,” Farrell said. “But certainly, the performance was outstanding.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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