(Busch Stadium) The ballpark and many of the faces still look familiar, but this return is a lot more comfortable than the last for Joe Kelly.
“The last trip was hectic,” said Kelly, who had been traded from St. Louis to Boston just a few days before he took the mound to face his former teammates in 2014. “That had a little more emotions going into it–kind of still didn’t feel too real. It was a big blur to me, I still have to go back and watch that game to basically remember anything.
“It was so much fun–the emotions that I had on my way to the walk on the other side of the field, coming out as a starter. Seeing the fans, great reaction just walking out to get warmed up before the game. I’m an emotional guy and when I come out on the mound and they announce the starting pitcher, you get a standing ovation. It was hard for me to keep it together. My throat–it was hard to breathe. It was almost like it was my first big league appearance.”
Now almost three years removed from the trade, Kelly has settled into a role in the Red Sox bullpen. In 16 games, he has a 1.89 ERA and 10 Ks in 19.0 innings.
“I love it,” he shared. “It’s kind of a relief knowing what kind of role I had coming into the year. These past few seasons, it’s been starting, relieving, going back to starting. So knowing coming into camp that I was going to be a full-time reliever this year, it was just a little bit easier for me to plan in the off-season.”
Already sitting in the high 90’s with his fastball, the move to the bullpen has also allowed Kelly to dial the velocity up even higher.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “Obviously, you’re not going out and planning 100 pitches–hopefully, you’ll get the job done in 20 or less. It’s a little bit easier to, like I said, go after every pitch 100%, rather than game plan for hitters and mix pitches. If you’re throwing well and the fastball’s working, it’s something you usually just stay with it until a hitter makes adjustments. It’s definitely a little bit different. I’m not trying to throw as hard as I can on every pitch, but 99% of them I am.”
The hitting of triple digits on the gun caught the attention of his former teammate, Trevor Rosenthal.
“It was one of those things where he happened to pull up or watch a game when I was pitching,” shared Kelly. “He texted me after the game and he’s like ‘holy crap, dude–101?’ I’m like ‘yeah man, I’m feeling good’. I think it was the next day he went out and hit like 101.7 or 101.8 and he’s like ‘hey, I got ya’ and they gave him 102. I was like ‘alright, man, guess I’m going to have to come back after you’ and probably a couple outings later, feeling pretty good, ended up getting him by 1/2 mph or whatever it was. Just something that was fun.”
The two got together for dinner on Monday before the series started between their two teams.
And though not on a daily basis, Kelly also keeps in contact with Allen Craig, who was also part of the deal from the Cardinals to the Red Sox.
“He’s trying to get back to the big leagues,” said Kelly. “Last time I checked and talked to a couple of guys who had been called up, they said he looks great. He might not be showing it numbers-wise, but they said his swing looks powerful.”
“The balls are very much different from the minor leagues to the big leagues,” added Kelly. “You hear it all the time. I don’t know what’s behind that, I know they’re made different. Guys are saying he’s flying out at the warning track and he’d have homers here at the big league level just because those balls down there you–I’ve made rehab starts down there, I’ve been in Triple A. You grab those balls and they’re mushy. Or you see guys in batting practice and no one’s hitting it out in batting practice and then they get called up to the big leagues and every hit’s a homer.
“That’s probably a little bit different, but they said his swing looks good. His body feels good, so hopefully at one point–this is the last year on his deal…I think he wants to prove to himself that he can be a big league player again, it’s something that we’re all pulling for him.”
photo credit: STLBaseballWeekly.com, Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports