MINNEAPOLIS — What will surely be one of the most memorable weeks of Zack Kelly’s life started during a bus ride from Syracuse to Worcester on Sunday night.
That’s when the 27-year-old righthander learned the Red Sox were calling him up to the major leagues.
Kelly immediately called his wife and parents with the good news. Reed and Tracy Kelly quickly made plans to fly here and saw their son pitch a scoreless sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins on Monday night in his major league debut.
But his wife, Brittany, had to stay home in South Carolina. She’s due to give birth to the couple’s first child, a boy, any day now.
“It’s surreal,” Kelly said before a 4-2 loss. “This has been the goal for a very long time. To have that goal come true is very special.”
The story gets better. Kelly did not get drafted out of Division 2 Newberry College in 2017. He signed with the Athletics for a $500 bonus as a free agent.
Kelly was released after one season and bounced to the Angels. He pitched well but was released as a cost-cutting move during the pandemic. He got that news a day after learning he needed elbow surgery.
As the pandemic raged, Kelly underwent a ligament reattachment procedure, avoiding Tommy John surgery. Because he was a free agent, he did the rehabilitation work on his own with a private physical therapist.
“There were definitely times when I wondered if I’d play baseball again,” Kelly said.
The Sox signed Kelly to a minor league deal seven months after his surgery. He had a 1.69 ERA for Double A Portland last season. Kelly had a team-leading 44 appearances for Worcester this year, going 6-3 with three saves.
A sinkerballer with a good changeup, Kelly had a 2.72 ERA with the WooSox and averaged 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
Kelly used his sinker to strike out Miguel Celestino looking. A changeup produced the same result with Sandy Leon. Luis Arraez singled but was thrown out stealing second.
“The changeup is a weapon,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I’m very excited for him. [The Worcester coaches] feel he’s in a real good spot right now.”
Kelly grew up in Roanoke, Va., close to where the Red Sox have a Single A team in Salem. He was not necessarily a Sox fan but remembers seeing Anthony Rizzo and other prospects on their way up.
“When the Sox contacted me, it was an easy decision,” Kelly said. “An organization like that, with all the history, it was a great opportunity.”
Newberry College hasn’t had a major league player since 1961. Kelly’s college pitching coach, P.J. Zocchi, was at Target Field on Monday. He’s now the head coach at Anderson University.
“Guys have different journeys; guys have different stories. Mine’s definitely not as ideal as some are,” Kelly said. “But it’s mine. I take ownership in that and I’m proud of it.
Meanwhile, a baby is coming. Brittany is due Saturday.
“I’m trying not to think about it as much as I can,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be a heck of a week.”
Cora said it was “difficult” for the Sox to drop Austin Davis and Hirokazu Sawamura on Sunday. Both were designated for assignment.
“The conversations are not fun. But something we felt we needed to do,” he said.
The Sox have one of the worst bullpens in the majors. Through Sunday they were 27th in ERA (4.54) and 22nd in strikeout to walk ratio (2.40). That’s in large part a product of being sixth in innings with 501.
Cora praised Sawamura’s professionalism and suggested the Sox could keep him in Worcester if he clears waivers.
“Let’s see what happens in the upcoming days,” he said. “One thing about him; the way he prepared, the way he was in the clubhouse, the way he treated people — second to none.
“It’s a tough one. Sometimes in this business you have to move forward.”
Davis had a 5.32 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over 69 appearances for the Sox since being acquired from Pittsburgh for Michael Chavis. Chavis is now the regular first baseman for the Pirates.
Davis recorded one of the biggest outs of last season at Washington on Oct. 2.
With the Sox leading, 1-0, the Nationals loaded the bases with one out for Juan Soto in the eighth inning. Davis came in and retired him on a deep fly ball to center. Against Soto, a sacrifice fly was just about the best outcome.
The Sox scored four runs in the ninth and held on to win, 4-2.
Tanner Houck, who has been on the injured list since Aug. 6 with a strained back, is scheduled to throw live batting practice at Worcester on Tuesday. Nate Eovaldi, out with shoulder inflammation, is set for a bullpen session on Tuesday. Eric Hosmer has started swinging a bat since going on the IL with back pain. He could be ready for a minor league game by the end of the week … Chris Archer, Minnesota’s scheduled starter on Tuesday, hasn’t faced the Red Sox since Opening Day 2018. He is 2-12 with a 5.27 ERA in 21 career starts against the Sox. Archer will face Kutter Crawford, who has allowed 20 runs on 28 hits over 19 ⅓ innings in his last four starts … Through Sunday, Alex Verdugo’s 32 doubles matched his career high … Kelly was given No. 76. That was last worn by Hector Velazquez in 2019 … The Sox promoted 23-year-old righthander Bryan Mata to Worcester. He was 5-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 14 games this season after returning from Tommy John surgery. Mata was 5-2 with a 1.82 ERA in 10 games for Double A Portland, and is scheduled to start Tuesday night at Polar Park against Buffalo.