USA Today Sports

How the Red Sox fixed Joe Kelly just in time

Rob Bradford
October 25, 2018 - 5:51 am

Much was made of the Red Sox finding a solution to Craig Kimbrel's problems. And for good reason. The difference between the closer the Red Sox have gotten during the first two games of the World Series and what they saw for the majority of the first two postseason series is night and day.

It was a reminder Kimbrel offered most recently Wednesday night when cruising through a perfect ninth inning in the Red Sox' 4-2 win over the Dodgers.

But there is another member of the Red Sox' bullpen who needed to be fixed, with time running out on both the pitcher and his team. That would be Joe Kelly.

Kelly has been one of the most reliable Red Sox pitchers throughout the postseason, turning in his second flawless frame in as many nights while shutting down the Dodgers in the seventh inning of Game 2. In six appearances throughout the playoffs Kelly has allowed just one earned run over 7 1/3 innings, striking out seven and not walking a single batter.

The effectiveness is a far cry from what Kelly displayed for the majority of the regular season's second half. Post-All-Star break hitters managed a .290 batting average against the righty after totaling just a .195 clip prior to the break.

"To be able to contribute, to not stink, it's refreshing," Kelly said.

Getting to this point, however, was a process, one that started with a closed-door meeting at Yankee Stadium with Red Sox manager Alex Cora and pitching coach Dana LeVangie.

"I just thought Joe was extremely approachable at that time, willing to make some adjustments to get back to what he was earlier in the season," LeVangie remembered. "I'm not talking about big, big overhauls. It was simple adjustments. Whether it was handsets. Whether it was delivery related. Or pitch mix. It was mainly related to pitch mix but we had to clean up a few of the things.

"We laid it on the line for him. Joe was all in. OK, I like it. Direction. Again, you can't give somebody direction if they weren't willing to buy in and Joe was willing to buy in."

A few of the items Kelly needed to alter involved not giving the opposition a helping hand. Not only was the pitcher showing baserunners at second base what pitch he was about to throw, resulting in the pitches being relayed to the hitters, but he was also tipping his pitches ... all of them.

"I think the confidence came from Dana LeVangie and Alex Cora," Kelly said. "They saw something in me that I was doing at times that was leading to not any success. Sat down and took me aside and to just get back to mechanically, the way I was attacking batters when I'm throwing well. Just try to keep it simple from there and learn from what they were saying and see how it played out."

Another change Kelly was about to make involved which pitches he threw.

Not only did Cora and LeVangie want the reliever to mix in his offspeed stuff more, but he they also took away one of his pitches, the slider ... sort of. Kelly obviously kept his high-90's fastball, along with has become a lethal changeup. But now instead of throwing his curveball and slider he really throws a pitch they simply classify as a breaking ball, having the pitcher execute the offerings with the curveball grip but with a velocity more resembling the slider.

The changes were made just in time, with Kelly using the meetings with Cora and LeVangie in New York and Cleveland to springboard his way onto the postseason roster with a strong regular season finish.

"You know what? If you're afraid to fail in this game and give direction, maybe you shouldn't be in this game. You have to be willing to go out on a limb once in a while to give direction and lay it on the line once in a while," LeVangie said. "When you do that you build trust. It's hard to do if you don't have a relationship with somebody but I've had a relationship with Joe the last couple of years. There's trust there and some conviction. He was willing to buy in."