The Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen has proved to be the Achilles’ heel of an otherwise dominant team thus far in 2019. One of the biggest issues is the continued struggles of Joe Kelly, signed to a three-year, $25 million contract to be the primary setup man to Kenley Jansen.
Kelly was coming off a 2018 in which he was inconsistent during the regular season but fantastic in the postseason for the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers saw that firsthand when he pitched six scoreless innings against them to help the Red Sox win the World Series in five games.
However, Kelly immediately stumbled out of the gate immediately with the Dodgers, blowing leads to the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants in his first two appearances. His continued struggles ballooned his ERA to over 10 in early May and forced manager Dave Roberts to take him out of high-leverage situations.
One of Kelly’s recent chances in a high-leverage role turned into one of his worst appearances of the season. Entering in a tied game against the Los Angeles Angels, he allowed two runs to score without a hit thanks to three walks and two wild pitches.
Kelly has rebounded with four scoreless innings since then, including keeping the Colorado Rockies off the board in an eventual walk-off win for the Dodgers.
While many have yet to embrace the team’s most high-profile reliever addition in Andrew Freidman’s time as president of baseball operations, Jansen himself recently voiced his support of Kelly to ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez:
“He’s just going through a rough time right now,” Jansen said. “People can doubt him and say all the stuff they can say, but we believe in him. I believe him. I’m sure Doc and Andrew and everybody believes in him. He’s a champion. A true champion. What he did last year against us — he’s a true champion. It’s a long season, man. All we need him to do is figure it out at the right time. And that right time is closer to the end of the season.”
Jansen, arguably the best closer in Dodgers history, has stepped up to defend fellow relievers at other times in recent years when the bullpen has struggled to preserve leads long enough for him to enter.
And Jansen does have a point about Kelly. Throughout Kelly’s eight-year career, he has fluctuated between dominant and woeful, but he had a great track record in the postseason throughout his time as a Red Sox reliever.
The Dodgers are seemingly betting that Kelly does figure it out at the right time and his postseason success continues with them in 2019.