Joe Kelly’s strong run down the stretch likely came to a halt with his third-inning exit due to shoulder fatigue. Not only was his consecutive starts winning streak snapped, but there’s a good chance that his season will end, with Kelly having accumulated 153 innings between the big leagues and Triple A.
Nick Cafardo rightly points out that, for all the promise of Kelly’s run, it did little to suggest that he’s a pitcher who can handle a workload.
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.
Kelly accumulated 187 innings in 2012 between Triple A (72 1/3 innings), the big leagues (107 innings), and the postseason (7 2/3 frames), but this year, his 153 frames were bracketed by a biceps scare in spring training and shoulder fatigue at the end of the year. Moreover, his pitch inefficiency and limited workloads — even during his fine run since the end of August — raise questions about his ultimate value in a rotation.
Among the 83 pitchers who have made at least 25 starts, Kelly ranks last in innings (134 1/3), innings per start (5 1/3 per outing), and pitches per inning (17.7). His recent streak offers evidence of upside, but did not offer definitive proof of reliability. At 27, his profile is not that of someone who becomes a workload monster.
In the wild card era spanning 1995-2015, there have been 81 pitchers who posted 200-inning seasons as 28-year-olds. Of those, just four hadn’t pitched as many as 140 innings in a single big league season through his age 27 campaign.
Given his workload uncertainty, barring a remake that yields a shutdown bullpen, the Red Sox may find it no easier to commit to Kelly in the 2016 rotation than they did to keep him in the 2015 version.
Kelly’s winning ways came to an end in Tuesday’s no-decision, but the righthander, in a way, had already been playing with house money. As Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston writes, there’s an element of randomness that separates winning streaks from winless streaks, a fact highlighted by the close friendship of Kelly and Shelby Miller, the Braves pitcher who has not won in 21 starts.
As for the innings question: At a time when Kelly’s season might be winding down and the Sox are treating Eduardo Rodriguez with extreme care, Henry Owens continues to take the ball. He’s now at 158 1/3 innings — one year after he got to 167 innings in the minors between the regular season and postseason. As Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes, the Sox don’t feel it necessary to rein in his workload.
More by Alex Speier
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter @alexspeier.