TORONTO -- The minor shoulder twinge that caused Joe Kelly to be removed from his prior start didn't prevent the Boston Red Sox right-hander from pitching on Wednesday, nor did it seemingly affect his performance, as Kelly looked good through six-plus innings of work. What the injury did do, however, was keep Kelly on a short leash, which proved to be Boston's undoing in the 5-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
With the Red Sox up 2-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh, Kelly's 86th pitch of the game resulted in a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion. That was enough for manager John Farrell to go to the bullpen, ending Kelly's night when it seemed as if the starter still had some gas in the tank.
"After he came out of the last game, we had every intention to hold his pitch count down in that 85-pitch range," Farrell said. "He pitched exceptional tonight, he was very good, he had powerful stuff ... but it felt like in light of five days ago, we were going to hold him shorter than normal and then match up to the bottom part of the order. It didn't work out the way it looked we could match up."
Tommy Layne was the first reliever in, and he seemingly had Dioner Navarro retired on a foul pop behind the plate except catcher David Ross dropped the ball. Navarro singled to put runners on the corners, and that's when Farrell made the call for Junichi Tazawa.
While Tazawa has been a reliable arm out of the Sox bullpen over the past three seasons, it was his fourth outing in five days, and he has historically struggled against Toronto. Tazawa took a 6.52 ERA in 19 1/3 career innings against the Jays into Wednesday's appearance; of the 19 home runs he'd allowed in the majors, seven of them had come off Blue Jays bats.
After Wednesday, it was eight of 20 homers. Pinch hitter Danny Valencia cracked a 2-0 fastball from Tazawa over the left-field wall to put Toronto ahead 4-2, and Kevin Pillar then doubled and later scored to add an insurance run in the inning.
Farrell pointed out that most of Tazawa's past struggles had come against the Jays' most notable hitters, and the reliever had thrown a scoreless inning against those same batters (Valencia, Pillar, Munenori Kawasaki and leadoff man Jose Reyes) on Tuesday.
The manager felt fine with using Tazawa "given where we were in the order and given his histories against the guys he was scheduled to face. ... Last night he pitched in the same part of the order and he was exceptional."
Farrell believed that Tazawa's past issues against the Jays might have stemmed from tipped pitches, though the Japanese righty felt he had worked to solve the problem.
"That was a fact in the past, it was mentioned in the past when I had some meetings with my coaches, but I think I've already eradicated that," Tazawa said through an interpreter. "I'm using my breaking balls a little more, sidestepping ... those are the things I'm incorporating into my pitching. I think I'm doing a better job, obviously I didn't pitch as well [today] but I'm making some improvements."
Though Tazawa said he wasn't feeling tired at this point in the season, it was his 63rd appearance in 2014. Tazawa's well-used arm was called upon to preserve Kelly's, who said his shoulder felt fine both before and during his start.
"It's always in the back of your mind every time [an injury] happens, but it's something you don't really want to focus on," Kelly said. "When I'm on the mound, I want to block things out as best I can. It wasn't really bothering me at all, it was good."
Farrell repeated that Kelly's removal in his prior start was only precautionary, and Kelly downplayed his shoulder issue to the point that he hesitated to call it an actual "injury." He suspected that he was going to be on a pitch count on Wednesday, though he had no issue with being taken out of the game.
"It's the manager's decision. I have no right to say anything, I respect everything," Kelly said. He finished with two runs allowed on three hits and two walks over six innings (plus one batter) and said he was mostly satisfied with his performance.
"I'd like to get rid of those walks. My fastball tonight was a little bit better. ... Overall, I think I had pretty decent command of my stuff and was throwing every pitch," Kelly said.