The Los Angeles Dodgers in recent years have struggled to find an established setup man to help bridge the gap to closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning.
With this in mind, the club tapped into the free agent market this past winter to sign right-hander Joe Kelly to a lucrative three-year contract. It represented a shift in strategy, as Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman had typically shied away from doling out hefty pacts to relievers.
Kelly was coming off a dominant postseason with the eventual 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, where he especially shined against the Dodgers on baseball’s biggest stage.
The 31-year-old has yet to replicate that kind of success with Los Angeles, however, as his 2019 campaign has been nothing short of disastrous in the early going.
Kelly’s bizarre season took a turn in Monday’s opener against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, where he was charged with two runs without allowing a hit and striking out the side.
Kelly’s command was spotty, as he walked three batters and saw two of them cross home plate via an error and wild pitch. He was tabbed with his third loss of the season, as those two runs were the deciding factor in the contest.
After another disappointing appearance from the veteran, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts reiterated that Kelly remains an important piece of the puzzle for the Dodgers this season, per SportsNet LA:
“We’re going to need him. That’s just plain and simple. So we got to figure out a way to — mechanical, emotional, mental, just kind of tap into something and get him on track.”
Roberts added that he believes Kelly is pressing due to his desire for perfection:
“You can see it. I think with a guy that, in my opinion has pretty good command, to have the misfires like that, that’s very uncharacteristic. So I think that you’re trying too hard, trying to be too perfect, overthrowing, whatever it might be. Very uncharacteristic, a lot of those misfires.”
Kelly maintained afterward that he is not far off from finding his groove and that his struggles against the Angels looked worse than they actually were.
Prior to Monday’s implosion on the mound, Kelly had been showing signs of improvement. He had allowed runs in just two of his seven May appearances and was in the midst of a three-game scoreless streak.
In 22 overall appearances this season, Kelly is 1-3 with a 7.59 ERA, 4.83 FIP and 1.78 WHIP over 21.1 innings pitched. He is striking out 11 batters per nine — a career-best — but his struggles stem from command issues and trouble with the home run ball.