Joe Kelly’s tenure on the Los Angeles Dodgers got off to a rocky start, struggling to command his electric mix of a fastball that can touch 100 mph and his breaking pitches.
“Early on I was more changeup-usage, I would say. I couldn’t get the fastball where I wanted it, let alone get it over the plate,” Kelly said.
When Kelly did get his fastball over the plate, it usually wound up being a gift to hitters in the middle of the strike zone, according to pitch tracking data on FanGraphs.com.
The result was an ERA over 10 by the first week of May, and continued struggles in high-leverage situations into mid-June. Since then, however, Kelly has steadily improved his performance, displaying the talent that earned him a three-year, $25 million contract from the Dodgers last offseason.
Kelly has allowed three runs over his last 18 appearances dating back to the beginning of July, and none thus far during the month of August.
In fact, Kelly has only allowed two total hits over eight outings in the month, striking out nine. He has proven himself capable of handling high-leverage situations, like when he struck out the side against the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 7 with the Dodgers losing 1-0.
The Dodgers wound up with a 2-1 walk-off win over the Cardinals, a potential postseason foe — and Kelly’s first Major League team.
Kelly again helped set up a Dodgers walk-off on Wednesday, throwing a scoreless eighth inning to preserve a 1-0 lead. After Kenley Jansen allowed a game-tying home run in the ninth, Max Muncy hit a walk-off shot in the 10th for his fifth consecutive game with a homer.
“I feel good,” Kelly said after the win. “I think what was key was just throwing fastballs for strikes. I wasn’t able to get it over the plate; I was cutting my four-seam and trying to be too fine with it. Now it’s grip the two-seam, pick my target and just kind of throw through the zone. It’s tough to pitch without being able to throw a fastball.”
Kelly has a 1.47 ERA since June 22. During that stretch, his fastball has stayed in either the lower left quarter of the strike zone or elevated near the top, making it much harder for right-handed batters to make quality contact.
“I’ve definitely pitched a lot better (since the All-Star break),” Kelly said. “Nobody likes to play like crap. It’s a lot better to play the game you love at high level when you’re doing well. It all goes back to being able to throw a fastball over the plate for a strike but not middle-middle.”