Kelly went from good to bad, again, turning in his worst career start, which helped suck the air out of the Red Sox’s sails after a series win against the Los Angeles Angels. The Sox (21-24) had an 8-6 record in their last 14 games before Monday’s 7-2 loss.
“The attitude, the feel, energy in the clubhouse this morning was built upon the last two days,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “And to go out and have a game like today is very disappointing.”
It wasn’t all on Kelly, who allowed seven earned runs on eight hits in 1 2/3 innings. Boston’s bats cooled quickly at the right hand of Twins starter Ricky Nolasco (5-1) as David Ortiz, who had an RBI groundout, continued his hitting slump. Ortiz has now stepped up to the plate 16 times without reaching base. Pablo Sandoval was a career .476 hitter off Nolasco, yet came up empty on four plate appearances.
The Red Sox's team batting average ranked second in the American League over the last seven days entering Monday.
Stale bats aside, Kelly put the Red Sox in a 7-0 hole before Boston went through the order once. Kelly allowed six hits and six runs in the second inning to dampen spirits under an overcast sky and intermittent drizzle, proving to be a fitting backdrop for the Sox struggles on the mound and at the plate.
“Had two pretty decent ones before [Monday],” Kelly said. “Came out here and facing a team that is swinging the bat well ... It’s something I’m not going to let it bring me down or anything, just going to go out there and continue to build.”
After a four-start stretch in which Kelly yielded 21 earned runs, he bounced back with just three earned runs allowed in his last 13 1/3 innings coming into Target Field on Monday. But he couldn’t keep the good vibes rolling as he has allowed at least five earned runs in five of his nine starts.
Boston still is seeking consistency from Kelly, who went from forecasting a Cy Young Award (with tongue in cheek) during spring ball to a rotation-worst 6.24 ERA in May. Asked about Kelly’s standing in the rotation, Farrell said he has spotted a habit in the poor starts.
“There’s no decision here in this moment,” Farrell said. “But he has shown us the ability to go out and work deep into a ballgame. There’s no denying the stuff, it’s a matter of consistent location with his fastball.
“When he’s in those games where the runs have come about, it’s typically been mislocated fastballs that find their way into the middle of the plate.”
One bright spot was delivered by reliever Matt Barnes, who stepped in for Kelly and ended the Twins’ six-run second inning with a bases-loaded strikeout. Barnes finished with a career-best five strikeouts in a career-long 3 1/3 innings, but Farrell said he’s not expecting a role change with his reliever, who helped save the bullpen on the first day of an eight-day road trip.
Though Barnes pitched well, catcher Blake Swihart shouldered some of the blame for Kelly’s poor outing and said he could have been “calling a better game” for Kelly. Swihart didn’t have long to work with as Kelly was done after a season-low 52 pitches, which Farrell claimed was due to a snowball inning that was more of an anomaly than a trend.
“Today is probably the first one we’ve seen,” Farrell said. “I don’t know if there’s been innings where there’s been five-plus [runs].”