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.