Red Sox

Kelly a "short-term upgrade," but no guarantee he's anything more


Kelly a "short-term upgrade," but no guarantee he's anything more

The recent offensive explosion by the Red Sox' offense – producing 73 runs in a 6-1 homestand -- has, for the time being at least, distracted from a problem that has yet to be solved: The club's starting rotation remains a mess.

That was somewhat obscured when the Red Sox were scoring early - multiple-run early innings were seemingly a nightly feature on the homestand - or rebounding late - as was the case in two late-inning comebacks over the weekend against Houston.

But it doesn't diminish the fact that Sox starters still rank no better than 10th in the American League in ERA. Or that the team still has had an alarming number of games in which the started failed to get through the fifth inning -- Sunday being the most recent example.

Of the current starters, only Rick Porcello (who pitches Tuesday night in Kansas City) and, improbably, Steven Wright have been routinely dependable.

Clay Buchholz sports an inflated 5.42 ERA. David Price, who may have solved some mechanical issues in his last outing, still has a 6.00 ERA and has allowed five or more runs three times.

Then there's the fifth spot in the rotation, which in the last month has been occupied by Henry Owens and Sean O'Sullivan. It speaks volumes that Owens continues to struggle at Triple A after being optioned followed three poor starts while O'Sullivan was designated for assignment after failing to get through the fifth on the homestand finale.

Into this breach may soon step Joe Kelly.

Kelly went on the DL in April with a shoulder impingement and made three rehab starts for Pawtucket, the most recent of which saw him strike out 10 in 6 1/3 innings against Norfolk Monday night.

If the Red Sox had their choice, Kelly would probably have made another start in the minors before being recalled. But Monday's rainout in Kansas City means the Red Sox will need a starter for Saturday, and given that that is Kelly's day to throw again, he seems like a logical plug-in.

But expectations should be kept in check for Kelly, whose major league career has featured mixed results that hardly fall in line with the quality of his stuff. Kelly has been a chronic underachiever in the big leagues, with short stints of brilliance -- like an eight-game stretch late last summer -- that aren't sustained.

The Sox can reasonably expect that Kelly will perform better than either Owens or O'Sullivan did in the same spot in the rotation, but that's faint praise indeed.

Nor is it a guarantee that Eduardo Rodriguez will offer some magic elixir. He may be the second-most talented starter in the organization, but his results as he attempts to recover from a minor knee tweak nearly three months ago have been less than convincing.

Rodriguez's velocity and ability to pitch deep into games – he needed more than 100 pitches to get through 5 1/3 innings in his most recent tune-up for Pawtucket -- both need improvement before he's re-introduced into the rotation.

Does Kelly represent an upgrade in the short-term? Yes. But being better than the fifth starter in a rotation ranked in the bottom third of the league is hardly a high bar to clear.

Red Sox, Yankees working to play in London in 2019

Red Sox, Yankees working to play in London in 2019

Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge are about to go global.

Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy on Monday confirmed the Sox are interested to play the Yankees in London during next year's regular season. Bloomberg reported the clubs are nearing an agreement to play two games there in June 2019. Discussions are indeed taking place, but a deal is not done.

MORE - Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

“We would love to participate in a series in London against the Yankees but this is a decision that MLB and the MLBPA will make," Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said.

Bloomberg reported the games would be played at London Stadium, which was the main facility for the 2012 summer Olympics.

MLB has not played any games in Europe before. The Red Sox have made trips before, including to Japan before the 2008 season.


Red Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

Red Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

Blake Swihart’s strong spring seems to have the Red Sox more inclined to deal one of their natural utility infielders, such as Brock Holt or Deven Marrero, rather than Swihart, a converted catcher with high upside who's getting a look in other roles.
"Sounds like they’re holding Swihart to open," a rival executive said. "More likely to move a utility guy."
A true utility guy, that is.


The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported Sunday that Marrero has been drawing interest from other teams.

"We do have depth with our middle infielders," Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday. "However, [I] would not get into potential trade discussions."
Swihart, who turns 26 on April 3, is most valuable as a catcher. But he could still be useful in a bench role for the 2018 Red Sox, and a win-now mentality may be the driving force here. (It is possible, as well, that there is nothing available via trade for Swihart that has piqued the Sox’ interest. Marrero or Holt wouldn’t require as much in return.)
The potential drawback is that Swihart won’t grow much if he’s not playing every day -- and in particular, if he's not catching every day. But the Sox may be be at a juncture where they feel his bat is a worthwhile experiment off the bench, at least for this season. They can figure out his future -- and their future at backstop -- later.
"He’s a great athlete," Cora told reporters on Sunday. "We’ve seen it in the batter’s box. It’s not only the results, but the way he’s driving the ball to left field as a left-hander, the quality of at-bats as a right-hander. [On Saturday], as a pinch-hitter, that kid was throwing 99 and he throws a breaking ball and squares a ball up."
Swihart entered Monday with a .283 average in Grapefruit League play, with a .905 OPS and a pair of home runs. But he does not have the infield experience that Marrero or Holt has, and the Red Sox essentially have to carry one of those two to start the year. 
Eduardo Nunez, the temporary replacement for Dustin Pedroia, is coming off a knee injury, and a sure-handed infielder -- Marrero’s glove is particularly good -- is a must. Rafael Devers is still coming into his own at third base. 
Tzu-Wei Lin is available in the minors too, and the Sox could see some redundancy with him, Holt and Marrero. Lin, unlike Marrero, has minor league options remaining. Lin also has some limited outfield experience.
The way the Sox roster looks now, they have two spots available for the three guys: Marrero, Holt and Swihart. Health can change that. Holt, despite being the most veteran of the group, has minor league options remaining, so he theoretically could go to Triple-A to start the season. But if the Sox don't see a role for him on this year's team any way, they'd be wiser trading him, considering he's due to make $2.225 million. It also would be kindest choice for Holt, to let him have an opportunity elsewhere, if one exists.


Swihart has played first base, third base and left field in addition to catching this spring. Perhaps, in time, there will be a way to work Swihart in behind the plate for the Sox. At the least, retaining him would be insurance if Christian Vazquez or Sandy Leon do not perform well offensively.
There was a clear personal-catcher system for the Red Sox in 2017. Leon was Chris Sale’s guy, for example. Manager Alex Cora said he is not taking that approach. As an auxiliary effect, moving away from a personal-catcher system might make it easier for Swihart to receive more time behind the plate, if called on.
"Whoever I feel comfortable with that day behind the plate, he'll catch," Cora told reporters in Florida. "Christian already caught him. Sandy's going to catch him today. And then the next turn, Christian's going to catch him. Everybody's going to work with everybody."