CINCINNATI — When you think of the traded pitchers who have made an impact around baseball, you have to add Boston’s Joe Kelly to the list.
While the Red Sox aren’t playing for anything except to be a spoiler, and are working toward 2015, Kelly has worked himself into the equation as a middle-of-the-rotation starter and maybe better.
He shrugged off a two-run first inning and shut down the Reds for the remainder of his six-inning outing, not receiving a decision in a 3-2 Red Sox win Tuesday night.
He’s now put together two very good starts since being traded from St. Louis along with Allen Craig for John Lackey, who has had one good outing and one bad outing for the Cardinals.
Kelly is 26, while Lackey is 35. The Red Sox would rather have a pitcher throwing 94-96 miles per hour under their control until 2019 rather than deal with Lackey’s whining over a minimum salary contract and the fact that they would have to extend him to keep him happy.
You’d have to say the pitching deals so far have worked out the best for the Red Sox, Athletics, and Yankees.
Jon Lester has lived up to his billing, winning his first three starts for Oakland, including an 11-3 victory Tuesday night over Kansas City. The time before that he threw a shutout vs. Minnesota. He’s been precisely what the Athletics had in mind when they dealt for him in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes.
The Yankees have won five of six Brandon McCarthy starts since he came over from Arizona. He is 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA with New York and has been a savior after the team lost Masahiro Tanaka.
In addition to a mixed bag from Lackey, the Cardinals have gotten two stinkers from Justin Masterson.
The Tigers pulled off the deal that netted them the prize of the trade market in David Price. But Price didn’t pitch that well his last time out — six innings, five hits, four runs, three walks, six strikeouts and a no-decision in a 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays. Before that, the Tigers beat the Yankees, 4-3, in a game in which Price went 8⅔ innings, allowing three runs, walking none, and striking out 10 and getting another no-decision.
The man he was traded for, Drew Smyly, who went to Tampa Bay, has won one and lost one. He lost to Oakland, 3-0, but pitched OK over 5⅓ innings. Then he beat Texas, 7-0, with 7⅔ shutout innings.
Besides Lester, the A’s also have gotten good work out of Jeff Samardzija, who is 3-1 with a 3.08 ERA and a 0.906 WHIP since being acquired from the Cubs. The A’s have won six of his seven starts.
The results haven’t been as good for Jason Hammel, whom the A’s acquired with Samardzija. He’s 1-4 in six starts with Oakland with 5.90 ERA. The A’s have lost five of his six starts.
Jake Peavy is 0-3 in three starts with the Giants, pitching well enough to lose as he did in Boston.
After allowing the two runs, things began to turn in Kelly’s favor when Brayan Pena knocked into a double play and Chris Heisey struck out to end the first.
“Yeah, I made a pitch when I had to to a good hitter like Pena who has had success against me before,” said Kelly. “I threw him a first-pitch changeup, got a ground ball, and [we] turned two on him.”
And prior to that?
“Just missed on some close pitches. Just one pitch to [Jay] Bruce I thought was closer than the other ones and that turned into a walk. Just needed to attack the bottom of zone to get ahead of guys to be a little bit more successful,” Kelly said.
Kelly, who allowed five hits, walked three, and struck out four, helped himself with a base hit and a stolen base in the third inning.
Kelly became the first Red Sox pitcher to steal a base since Bill Landis in 1969 and he was the first American League pitcher to steal since Kenny Rogers on June 16, 2002 with Texas vs. Houston.
“Forty-five years . . . that’s a cool stat,” Kelly said. “I figured since I was in the AL I wasn’t going to get many more chances. The Cardinals never let me run because I pulled my hammy. I figured this might be my only opportunity and I at least wanted to get one in there and saw the opportunity and took it.”
Kelly, who allowed three hits and one run over seven innings in his Red Sox debut, a 2-1 win over the Cardinals Aug. 6 at Busch Stadium, will certainly miss playing offense.
He kidded about his offensive goals, “Hit the ball as far as Cespedes, but that’s not gonna happen. Maybe put the ball in the air when the wind is blowing out and maybe get a home run, but I just try to hit singles and be a nuisance on the basepaths and act like another leadoff hitter. And have pitchers think about me out there and not take me lightly.”
The Red Sox currently have no starting pitcher 30 or older, though Clay Buchholz turns 30 Thursday. Buchholz and Kelly surely sit on the front end of that rotation at present as the Red Sox continue to look at their youngsters such as Anthony Ranaudo (Wednesday), Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, and Allen Webster with Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, and Brian Johnson still in the minors.
The Red Sox will have their eyes on three possible acquisitions this offseason.
They’ll likely attempt a deal for Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels; try to compete for Lester again; and likely try and see if they can land free agent James Shields if they can keep the contract at four years.
The Sox could also be in the lower-cost free agent market for Masterson and Hammel, but neither has pitched particularly well of late.
While the Red Sox have Kelly under control through 2019, the A’s likely will part with Lester at the end of the season when he goes off and pursues his free agent riches. Samardzija can be a free agent after next season and he too likely will be too rich for the small-market A’s.
The Tigers can afford Price, but if they re-sign Max Scherzer, maybe not. The Tigers will have to make a tough decision. Scherzer has turned down six years at $144 million. Both he and Price (also a free agent after next year) may come in the $170 million-$180 million range. You might as well add Lester to that salary bracket as well.
The A’s have given up major talent — Cespedes and Addison Russell — to get their pitchers, but if they win it all, it likely will be because Lester won big games in the postseason.
Kelly’s impact will be felt in full force in 2015, but so far the Red Sox have hit this one pretty well.