Looking to shore up what had proven to be an Achilles heel during the postseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Joe Kelly to a three-year, $25 million contract in December 2018.
Kelly was coming off a dominant World Series run with the Boston Red Sox — which the Dodgers experienced firsthand — and the signing represented a homecoming. While the right-hander finished 2018 on a high note, he never found his footing with the Dodgers.
Kelly was plagued by injury toward the end of last season and into October. His struggles were punctuated by surrendering a game-winning grand slam to Howie Kendrick in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
“Last year it was kind of interesting. Toward the end of last year there were things going on with his body that we really couldn’t put our finger on,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said last week.
“With the full offseason and the abbreviated Spring Training, he’s given us no thoughts of concern. The command is good, spin is tight on the changeup. As far as health, he’s in as good of spot as he’s been in since we had him.”
On top of being in improved health, the 32-year-old also solved an issue with throwing his fastball. Kelly previously detailed how his index finger was coming off the pitch, which was discovered during a visit to Driveline Baseball.
Kelly took the correct grip into his intrasquad appearance, came away pleased with the results and encouraged by his trajectory as Opening Day of the 2020 season rapidly approaches. “It feels great,” he said a day after throwing all four-seam fastballs.
“No. 1, the way I threw the ball at the end of the year was obviously not my A game. It was one of those things that we took care of in the offseason and now going into the season it’s hopefully something that won’t pop back up. It’s just one of those things to stay on top of to be able to go out there.
“Even if it’s not at 100%; to be at 90% of my health is going to be great. To add to that with trying to actually throw a fastball that does what it’s supposed to do. I’m not going to be perfect with it. I’d say at my best right now I’m throwing it about 50% of the time. But 50% of the time is a lot better than 0%, which is probably what I’ve done the last two or three years.
Kelly’s unique offseason workout
“I think during the time we quarantined, my schedule was a little bit different. I wasn’t going out and throwing against hitters or in gyms working out,” Kelly explained.
“It was just me in the garage with a couple dumbbells and kettlebells and about 90% of my catch was just with a net. I threw off the mound a couple times, I got here and threw twice, and then faced hitters. The time I spent with myself throwing into a net was something that was truly a blessing. Just for the fact that I knew what I needed to get better, which was throwing my fastball.
“So for me to be able to work on that on my own, I didn’t have any technology to tell, it was more of a feeling thing. That was kind of what I worked on when I played catch against the net. I threw a couple CleanFuego balls, the changeup that everyone has seen, but for the most part it was me just trying to get my fastball to come off my fastball at the same time.
“To be able to test it out here against our hitters, it was good to get some feedback. My body feels healthy; haven’t been too sore. I think what I’m taking away from the outing in general is I’m going to be comfortable going into the season even though I didn’t prepare as some of the other guys who threw four innings and there’s been guys who have thrown to hitters since we stopped.
“But to show I’m right there without doing that kind of thing is mentally satisfying to myself.”
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