Going against his history of signing a relief pitcher to a sizable contract, Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman addressed the team’s bullpen last offseason by inking Joe Kelly to a three-year, $25 million contract.
The value of the deal was somewhat of a surprise considering Kelly had an uneven 2018 season for the Boston Red Sox. He was nearly left off their postseason roster, and the decision to include him of course paid dividends as he shined throughout October.
The Dodgers hoped they’d receive that version of Kelly and envisioned him playing multiple roles. One was as a setup man to Kenley Jansen, and another calling for the right-hander to be available to occasionally pitch multiple innings.
Instead, Kelly struggled and was eventually demoted to low-leverage situations. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts suspected Kelly was pressing in effort to pitch well for his new teammates, and remained confident he would eventually right the ship.
That came once Kelly made a decision to shelve his four-seam fastball, which helped solve some of his command issues. The 31-year-old continued to lower his ERA through July and August, but was limited in September due to what was only classified as a ‘lower body injury.’
Although there was some health concerns, the Dodgers were hopeful time off to rest would put Kelly in the best position to succeed come the postseason. He finished the year 5-4 with one save, a 4.56 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 55 games.
Kelly appeared in three games during the National League Division Series, with his first being a scoreless inning of work. He was then knocked around by the Washington Nationals in the next two appearances, allowing a combined six runs.
The back-break was a game-winning grand slam surrendered to Howie Kendrick in the 10th inning of Game 5.
Roberts later revealed Kelly dealt with knee, quad and arm trouble during the NLDS.
Kelly appeared in 10 games from Aug. 1 to Aug. 28, holding opponents to a .103/.188/.138 batting line with 12 strikeouts across nine scoreless innings.
Kelly figures to be a candidate for late-inning scenarios next season, but could find himself in a similar role and situation as this year if his struggles continue. If Kelly is able to pitch well, and should Blake Treinen get back on track, the Dodgers could have dominant options at the backend of their bullpen.
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