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BALTIMORE — Joe Kelly had won eight straight games since Aug. 1, the longest winning streak in the American League this season. He had a 2.59 ERA over that span.

He had a nice run.

What he did more than anything was give us reason to respect his ability once again. Because until the streak, Kelly was a 27-year-old piece of a bungled John Lackey deal with St. Louis that also involved Allen Craig.

We kept wondering why St. Louis would want to part with Kelly, a guy who throws 98 miles per hour? For the longest time we knew why. Even with that hellacious fastball he couldn’t get people out until he started using his offspeed pitches.


Fast forward to Tuesday night.

Kelly had to come out of his start against the Orioles in the third inning with shoulder tightness and fatigue.

Kelly’s recent performances have won back many of the Fenway Park faithful.
Kelly’s recent performances have won back many of the Fenway Park faithful.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File 2015

“He just couldn’t get loose,” said interim manager Torey Lovullo. “It’s something that didn’t get better. We decided the best thing to do was take him out and re-evaluate him tomorrow. At some point, we had to draw the line and make the decision.”

Lovullo said he and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and the medical staff will decide what’s next. And that could be shutting him down, just as the team decided to with Junichi Tazawa on Tuesday night.

This is quite unfortunate, though Kelly received a no-decision and kept his winning streak intact. He exited after 2⅓ innings when it appeared something was amiss.

As Orioles great Jim Palmer pointed out, “Sometimes there’s a price to pay for those eight-game winning streaks.”

So we got to the point where we respected Kelly again. We were trying to shoehorn him into the 2016 rotation somehow even though there are likely to be eight bodies for five spots. If Kelly had been pitching lights-out, you’d have to make room for him or move him to the bullpen.


That’s going to be part of Dombrowski’s calculations for 2016. Now he is going to have to factor in Kelly’s shoulder injury.

It’s likely that the decision-makers will shut down Kelly for the season.

Obviously Kelly, making his career-high 25th start, had reached that point of fatigue and he couldn’t go any farther. He’d also made four starts for Pawtucket when he was demoted June 28. So Kelly now shows that vulnerable side; can his body hold up to 30 starts?

He’s a max-effort guy and those types tend to wear down. This injury might have been completely as a result of pure fatigue. Kelly had reached the point where he was trying to impress every time he took the ball. He wanted to keep the good times rolling. Why wouldn’t he? For so much of the first part of the season he had heard about how terrible he was. Now he was enjoying the accolades, the positive discussion.

And now this setback.

He had thrown more than 100 pitches in the last six in a row of those eight starts. His high was 110 in his last start against Toronto Sept. 9, when he made it through 5⅔ innings and allowed six hits and one run.

The Red Sox needed to find out how durable and dependable Kelly could be. They already have Clay Buchholz, who is injured so often. They don’t want another pitcher in the rotation who is not durable, so they tested Kelly over and over beyond the 100-pitch mark. And unfortunately the shoulder didn’t hold up.


Nine of Kelly’s 25 starts were quality, but that didn’t tell the story of how effective he had been. Over the eight-game stretch he beat playoff-bound teams such as the Mets and the Blue Jays, but he also faced sub. 500 teams such as Detroit, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Cleveland, the White Sox, and Philadelphia. So yes, he was good, but the competition wasn’t the greatest.

Kelly certainly fooled us in parts of Tuesday‘s game. In the second inning, he struck out the side. But in the third he allowed a single to J.J. Hardy, a home run to No. 9 hitter Steve Pearce, and a single to Gerardo Parra. After a fielder’s choice, Chris Davis singled in a run and Adam Jones singled. That was it. Lovullo came out with the trainer and Kelly was taken out of the game.

“Frustrated, for one,” said Kelly, when asked how he felt when he had to come out. “I wanted to stay in that game for as long as I could. The shoulder and arm, inconsistent firing, super tight. Let go the fastball and it was 88, 92, and 94. The inconsistencies with the way it was working, they thought it was best to come out of the game with tightness and fatigue.”

Kelly said his offspeed pitches were good, but his fastball was slower than usual. “It wasn’t firing the way it should be,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”


But he said even in his bullpen warmups the shoulder felt tight. Kelly just figured it would loosen up, but it didn’t.

What the Red Sox were hoping for was Kelly riding out the season with a clean slate. They were hoping he could just feel good with the season he’s had and end it on a positive note.

But this puts a bit of a damper on things. Right now the Red Sox aren’t scheduling any imaging to the shoulder. It could be a matter of a few more days off and he’ll be back to normal, which is of course the desired result. But the Red Sox are always super cautious on these matters.

If we’ve seen the last of Kelly this season, he did win us back. He’s got talent, and he left us wanting to see more of him.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.