NEW YORK -- Joe Kelly just finished a fantastic August -- mostly because he's currently pitching nothing like he was in April, May and June.
For the second straight outing, Kelly established a career high with 7 1/3 innings, limiting the New York Mets to a single run on five hits while directing the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory.
It was Kelly's sixth win in as many starts this month, as he became the first Red Sox starter since Pedro Martinez in May of 1999 to win six starts in one month.
In that span, he's compiled a 2.68 ERA.
Subtract the first start of the month, when Kelly gave up five runs against Tampa but managed a win because of strong run support, and the number is even more impressive - he's got a 2.06 ERA.
The turnaround isn't much of a mystery. After relying too much on his fastball earlier in the year, Kelly has learned to better utilize his secondary stuff to keep hitters off balance.
"Earlier in the year, maybe he was just a thrower,” said Torey Lovullo, "trying to throw fastballs, trying to throw balls past guys. And we know that's not going to happen at this level. He's started to pitch. He's come a long way. He's developed some pitches. The confidence is there and he's got three, sometimes four, active pitches to left- and right-handed pitchers at any time. And that's very lethal.”
The afternoon didn't begin well for Kelly, who had to battle out of a first-and-third jam in the first inning, needing 30 pitches to get the first three outs.
That type of inefficiency plagued Kelly earlier in the year, too. But he settled in and got the next 19 outs on just 72 pitches, including a stretch that saw him face one batter over the minimum from the second through the sixth.
"Those guys came out, having really, really good at-bats, fouling pitches off,'' said Kelly. "It was tough. After the first inning, it was something we talked about -- try to be more efficient and get some early contact and it ended up working out.''
Kelly credited improved command of his fastball and a plus changeup to keep the Mets unsettled. The changeup, in fact, was so effective that he felt good enough to throw five in a row in one at-bat against Kelly Johnson.
"It's been a point of emphasis lately that, no matter what team we're facing, I have to throw the off-speed,'' said Kelly. "Earlier in the year, I was just throwing all fastballs and obviously that didn't work out. So we've been trying to get the hitters off the fastball.''
David Ortiz, who was out of the lineup with a sore heel, got to watch Kelly from the dugout most of the afternoon and couldn't help notice the difference from what he saw earlier this year.
“He's got me super-excited about next year already,'' said Ortiz. "You watch him pitch now and he's doing what the greatest normally do – keeping hitters off balance. Watching him pitch today and it was outstanding. He definitely is (a different pitcher than before) and he's going to keep improving.''