TORONTO -- Joe Kelly’s quest for consistent results ran into a familiar roadblock Friday. While Kelly did pretty well against the Toronto Blue Jays as a whole, there wasn’t much he or the Boston Red Sox could do to contain Josh Donaldson.
Of the five runs and nine hits allowed by Kelly in a 7-5 Red Sox loss, three of the hits and three of the runs were generated by the reigning American League MVP. Donaldson opened the scoring with a solo homer in the first, lined an RBI double in the third and then delivered a bases-loaded single to shortstop to drive in yet another run in the fourth.
“I missed with the fastball,” Kelly said of Donaldson’s home run. “I hit my spot there with those fastballs, I could get a ground ball or a popup. Fall behind a guy like that who’s coming out the gate swinging, you don’t have much room to miss a pitch.”
The righty also described the changeup he threw to Justin Smoak in the fifth inning as “a mislocation” that was crushed into the second deck for a solo home run. These mistakes were enough to give Kelly an early night, as he lasted just 4 2/3 innings.
Manager John Farrell thought his starter performed well apart from his encounters with Donaldson, and noted that Kelly’s roughest inning (the two-run fourth that saw eight batters come to the plate) was partially due to bad luck as much as ineffective pitching.
“I thought Joe had quality stuff. The fourth inning starts with a walk, a hit-and-run [play] that trickles through the infield, a hit batter, another ball off the glove of Bogey [Xander Bogaerts] at short ... but [Kelly] wasn’t as sharp with the overall location as he was in his first start for us.”
The outing was a far cry from Kelly’s last start, a one-hit gem last Saturday in which he tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Indians. That start was Kelly’s first turn since returning from the disabled list, and it again gave the Red Sox hope that the talented right-hander had finally begun to command his impressive pitching arsenal.
As it happened, Kelly’s start may have saved his spot in the rotation, as the returning Eduardo Rodriguez will instead take the place of Clay Buchholz, who was relegated to the bullpen in an announcement from Farrell earlier in the day. If Buchholz regains his old form, Kelly could be the odd man out of the rotation picture unless the righty can get on track.
Despite falling into a 5-2 hole thanks to Kelly’s rough outing, Boston’s potent lineup managed to tie the game on the strength of a two-run single from catcher Christian Vazquez in the seventh and a Travis Shaw RBI single in the eighth. That last run was aided by some poor defense from the Blue Jays, as Michael Saunders fell down while chasing a Dustin Pedroia fly ball that turned into a double, and Pedroia later scored on Shaw’s hit.
In the latter half of the eighth, however, it was Koji Uehara who fell victim to Donaldson’s big night. After allowing a bunt single to leadoff man Ezequiel Carrera, Uehara battled Donaldson in a seven-pitch plate appearance that saw the Toronto third baseman get just enough bat on Uehara’s four-seam fastball to ease it over the wall near the right-field foul pole.
Those two runs proved to be the difference, and they boosted Uehara’s ERA to an uncharacteristically large 4.26 over 19 innings this season. After allowing three homers in all of the 2015 season, Uehara already has given up two this year.
Donaldson has long been a thorn in Boston’s side, carrying a career .310 average and .949 OPS against the Red Sox into Friday’s game. Against Kelly, the third baseman has been particularly impressive -- with his three hits on Friday, Donaldson is now 12-for-20 (.600) with two homers and three walks against him.
When facing a batter who has consistent success against him, Kelly said that he doesn’t necessarily try to change his strategy, but rather “I try to make the same pitches better.”
“Especially those guys at the top of the order who tend to sit off-speed and counts that are 0-2, 1-2, [the fastball] is a pitch that we try to go through,” Kelly said. “Two missed locations on the fastball hurt me a little bit, plus falling behind. You can’t do that against these guys.”