Joe Kelly's time in the Red Sox rotation might be up soon, as it appears Boston is tired of fastball command being his undoing. The plan, as Sean McAdam of CSNNE reports, is for Kelly to get one more chance to show he is making progress, and if he fails to do that, then he could be demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket with top pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez taking over for him in the Red Sox rotation.
Kelly seemed to be doing better under the tutelage of new pitching coach Carl Willis -- whether that is a coincidence or an important, non-arbitrary time frame is unknown. He pitched 13-1/3 innings total against the Mariners and Rangers, allowing just three runs while striking out nine batters against four walks and inducing plenty of grounders. He then lasted just 1-2/3 frames against the Twins -- who have a below-average lineup and failed to score a single run against Boston's bullpen after Kelly's departure -- to undo the belief that progress was actually being made.
Wright has earned a permanent role on the Red Sox
Steven Wright has been nothing but solid in his outing with Boston this year, and he's earned a spot on the roster even after his rotation spot is taken by a veteran or a prospect.
Rodriguez might not be big-league ready necessarily, but he also doesn't seem to have much left to learn against International League batters. In 48-1/3 innings at Triple-A, Rodriguez has struck out over six times as many batters as he's walked, and owns a 2.98 ERA. He's avoiding free passes, keeping the ball in the park, and inducing a solid amount of grounders. He still needs to work in his secondaries more consistently and more effectively, but the fastball command and total lack of a slider that made him expendable in the Orioles' eyes last July no longer seem to be problems, and because of that, he can probably give the Sox a chance to win games soon, if not now.
The place for Kelly might be in Boston's bullpen in the long run, but for now, sending him to Triple-A to remain stretched out as a starter makes sense: it allows Kelly to work as depth should something go wrong in the rotation in his absence, and also gives him a chance to try to work through his issues -- Rodriguez is a possible upgrade, not a guaranteed one, and while Steven Wright is intriguing, he comes with his own questions, too.
With better command, Kelly could work as a five in the American League, but he needs to show he can consistently have that command before the Sox can let him pitch for much longer in games that matter. He's under team control through 2018, so figuring him out for the long-term is what matters, even if it's at the expense of his short-term. And especially if his being switched out can help the Sox both in the now and later.