Rumors of Kelly being replaced in the starting rotation, which has drastically improved over the last few weeks under new pitching coach Carl Willis, have rapidly increased after yet another poor and brief outing. Kelly gave up seven runs over just 1.2 innings of work in Monday's 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins. The start was the shortest in Kelly's career, which has taken a sharp turn for the worse since being acquired from St. Louis at the trade deadline last season.
Kelly's ERA this season is now up to 6.24, which puts him in the bottom ten of the entire league amongst starting pitchers. In his nine starts this year, he has given up five or more runs in five games, and has failed to win a game since his first start of the season on April 11th against the Yankees.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was noncommittal regarding Kelly's long-term status in the rotation, stating that there has been no decision if he would remain a starter. Sean McAdam, Red Sox Insider for CSNNE, wrote that Kelly is "clearly on thin ice" and there is a distinct possibility that he may be replaced in the rotation by Sox prospect Eduardo Rodriguez soon. Kelly may have one last chance to prove his worth, which would be slated to occur this weekend against the Texas Rangers.
Rodriguez, who was acquired last year from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for relief pitcher Andrew Miller, was sensational in Double-A Portland, with a 3-1 record and an ERA under 1.00. In six starts for the Sea Dogs, he amassed 39 strikeouts and just eight walks in 37 innings pitched. He has continued his strong performance in Boston's minor league system this season in Triple-A Pawtucket, going 4-3 with a 2.98 ERA in eight starts. He has one complete game this year, and has a stellar 44:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48.1 innings pitched. Rodriguez started the season as the fourth-ranked prospect in the Red Sox system, according to both MLB.com and Baseball America, and is currently on the 40-man roster.
While Rodriguez is the most popular candidate to replace Kelly in the rotation, the Sox have other options that they could pursue in order to attempt to bolster their pitching staff.
If the Red Sox do not want to make a roster move, they could choose to move Kelly to the bullpen and replace him with Matt Barnes. Barnes has been very solid in relief in Boston, making eight appearances and picking up two wins out of the pen. He pitched the second through fifth innings on Monday afternoon in relief of Kelly, striking out five hitters while not surrendering a run, helping to save the bullpen from another taxing performance. He has pitched just 12 innings in his eight appearances, but did start three games in Pawtucket this season between his two call-ups. Barnes started the season as the eighth-ranked prospect in the Sox system, projecting to become either a mid-rotation starter or late-inning reliever.
The Sox could choose to leave Rodriguez in the minors and call up either Henry Owens or Brian Johnson instead, as both pitchers are also considered to be top prospects for the squad. Owens entered the season as the #2 prospect in the system, only behind catcher Blake Swihart according to Baseball America. Owens, whose name was talked about in potential trade rumors throughout the offseason, was 17-5 with a 2.94 ERA in 26 starts last season between Portland and Pawtucket. He is currently 2-3 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts this year in Pawtucket, with opponents batting just .183 against him. His walk rate is very high this season, which is probably the only reason that his name is not being discussed more frequently amongst potential call-ups.
Johnson was a revelation last season, starting in Single-A and ending up as the Red Sox' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He was 10-2 in Portland last season with a tremendous 1.75 ERA in 20 starts. He had 99 strikeouts to just 32 walks, resulting in a WHIP of 0.93 and an opponent's batting average of .189 in Double-A. Johnson is 5-3 with a 2.92 ERA this season in Pawtucket, picking up a complete game shutout on April 21st against Buffalo. He has given up less than two runs in seven of his nine starts this season, which has undoubtedly impressed the organization and warranted a future call-up.
Whether it is Rodriguez, Owens, Barnes, or Johnson, it looks like Joe Kelly's days in the starting rotation are definitely numbered.
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