Joe Kelly

Red Sox notes: Joe Kelly sure knows how to throw a baseball, Christian Vazquez is pretty good at catching it

Rob Bradford
February 28, 2015 - 10:59 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was a relatively long day for Red Sox players at Fenway South Saturday. First, there was a Major League Baseball-sponsored domestic-abuse education meeting. Then came a morning and early afternoon chock full of drills and activity. Perhaps the most notable endeavor was pitchers vs. batters showdown. It was the first such occasion that didn't include the hitters simply tracking pitches. It was nothing elaborate, with Justin Masterson, for example, throwing 25 fastballs before exiting off the mound. (Pablo Sandoval did take the righty deep on one of the offerings.) But there were a couple of takeaways that seemed to stand out. Most notably were the hitters reaction to Joe Kelly's stuff. The righty starter left an impression on the hitters he faced, which included Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Sandoval. "He's around the plate, throwing strikes, good curveball and slider. I know it's still early, but he looked really good today," Napoli said. "I've faced him before during the year. I know what the stuff's like. He's just got good arm action, ball comes out of his hand well. He's good. The ball moves all over the place. He's just ahead of everyone else right now. "He has a really good fastball. He just needs to be able to locate it. He's got a good curveball and changeup. Of the five starters, he might have the best stuff of everybody. He's just got to put it together." So what does Kelly have to do to attain his self-proclaimed goal of winning the American League Cy Young Award? While Kelly did show flashes of excellence as a starter when getting the chance with the Cardinals in 2013 -- going 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 15 starts -- he has to show it over the long haul, having never pitched more than 126 innings. "Being a little bit more efficient," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I think we saw a guy with power stuff. To be a little bit more refined with his command overall should keep him ahead in the count and maybe have hitters hit in more defensive counts. There were times last year a four-pitch walk would be mixed in. As he evolves as a pitcher and knows the consistency required, the focus and concentration will to that pitch count being a little bit more in line with the innings. Hopefully that extends him deeper into individual outings." Catching the group of pitchers that included Masterson, Kelly and newly-acquired lefty reliever Robbie Ross Jr., was Christian Vazquez. While Vazquez has left his mark on previous spring trainings thanks to his throwing arm, this time around all the talk has been regarding an above-aveage ability to control the strike zone. It was a talent that was evident in Saturday's workout. "It'€™s special. It is that special. I haven'€™t seen too many catchers catch the ball as good as he does," said Red Sox catching instructor Dana Levangie. " "There'€™s a lot that goes into it. Obviously he'€™s come a long way when he first got here. Just like when we got Jason [Varitek]. Jason came a long way from the time we got him. He grew a whole bunch. That'€™s having patience with your catcher. But, fundamentally, he is beyond his years. It'€™s pretty cool. But there are always things for him to work on and get better at." -- The Red Sox also worked on some skills not necessarily involving throwing or hitting. For example, bench coach Torey Lovullo brought groups over to practice sliding, emphasizing keeping the front foot down on the bag so that the player isn't popping up on their bag leg. Along with some agility drills, a collection of players participated in running the 40-yard dash. An informal survey put Mookie Betts as the fastest of those participating, clocking in at 4.7. (Jemile Weeks, who is running Sunday, said he ran a 4.5 as a freshman in high school.) -- Asked about the protocol when it comes to using electronics (TV shows, iPads, etc.) before a game, Farrell explained, "We talk about that. Prior to 6:30, everything is shut off. The only thing that is running on TV at that time is the opposing pitcher that night, and that's all part of the individual's preparation to lead them into game-time. I think if you see the number of guys who are in our cage and in our dugout long in advance of the first pitch thrown, I think that speaks pretty clear to that."