Right-hander Joe Kelly submitted his third straight quality start against an AL East opponent on Monday. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Why you should have cared about Monday's Red Sox game: Joe Kelly giving some clarity to 2015 rotation

September 08, 2014 - 6:21 pm
(For the final month of the regular season, "Closing Time" will be called "Why You Should Have Cared," looking beyond the final score -- at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) -- for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.) A National League scout recently was taking stock of the Red Sox' inventory of young arms and their potential to round out the team's 2015 rotation. He paused when he got to right-hander Joe Kelly. He raved about the movement of Kelly's high-velocity two-seamer, about his ability to keep the ball off the barrel of hitter's bats, noted the quality of the secondary stuff. The idea of having Kelly under team control for four prime years, even at the cost of John Lackey? "I'd do it every time," the scout said, noting that Allen Craig represented, to his mind, no more than a secondary piece. Of course, the Sox right now are not likely seeing the best of Kelly. The pitcher has talked about how he is been playing catch-up all year, ever since landing on the disabled list due to a hamstring tear (incurred while bunting for a base hit) in the first month of the year, after getting off to a tremendous start for the Cardinals. Nonetheless, he is getting his legs with his new team. On Monday, Kelly delivered his third straight quality start against an American League East foe, going 6 1/3 innings while allowing four runs (but just three earned) on six hits (all singles) and three walks while matching his career-high (for the second straight outing) with six strikeouts. He elicited 11 groundball outs. In his three outings against division opponents, he has a 3.79 ERA while gaining familiarity with the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles lineups. On Monday, his outing wasn't enough for a victory on a night when the Red Sox were shut out for the 14th time this year, losing to the Orioles by a 4-0 count. But Kelly continues to solidify his standing in the rotation for next year, looking like a pitcher with the stuff and experience to compete reliably, to be part of a winning team. The loss was the 81st of the season for the Red Sox, leaving them a staggering 21 1/2 games behind the first-place Orioles. OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT THE RED SOX GAME -- For meaningful stretches of this year, the Red Sox looked like a team without a single viable top-of-the-order hitter. Increasingly, it appears the team may have two or even three going forward. Brock Holt gave the Red Sox production atop the order once he rose to that position in the lineup in mid-May. Even as his production has waned, the team has added an apparent long-term solution to that responsibility with the signing of Rusney Castillo. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts continues to do nothing to dispel the idea that he's close to ready for big league leadoff duties. At a time when Holt is sidelined by the flu and when Castillo is working his way up through the system, Betts just keeps hitting and getting on base. Batting leadoff for the third straight game and fourth time in eight contests this month, Betts went 1-for-3 with a walk. In the games where he has hit leadoff, he's now 6-for-16 with two doubles, a triple and two walks, good for a .375/.444/.625 line. He's reached base multiple times in all four of his games as the leadoff hitter. -- Though Will Middlebrooks showed some positive signs with a two-strike single against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez in his first trip to the plate, he struck out in his next three plate appearances, including a punchout with the bases loaded and one out against Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter in the bottom of the seventh inning. Middlebrooks has now struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances this year, an obvious red flag regarding his ability to scrape his considerable ceiling. -- The Red Sox face a difficult offseason decision with David Ross, particularly if they commit to Christian Vazquez as their everyday catcher for 2015. While Ross represents a perfect mentor for a young catcher, his lack of offensive production could leave the team exposed if Vazquez struggles to produce at the big league level. (While most are bullish on Vazquez's longer-term offensive viability given his simple swing and the ability to swing at strikes, the near-term represents a question as he transitions to the big leagues.) Ross went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and stranded four, with his average sinking to .181 with a .606 OPS. He's struck out in 34.6 percent of plate appearances.