Houston Astros second baseman Mauricio Dubón hit a high chopper in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox on May 13 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Reliever Joe Kelly and first baseman Andrew Vaughn attempted to make the play. Kelly fielded the ball, but Dubón was safe — in part because no one was at the bag.
That was all in terms of recent damage against Kelly before Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field. While the right-hander’s streak of 18 consecutive batters retired came to an end with José Ramírez’s two-out triple in a scoreless eighth, he has retired 34 of the last 36 he has faced with 16 strikeouts.
“It’s health, number one, and two would be strikes,” Kelly said before Tuesday’s game of the reasons for his success. “It’s my 11th year and at some point it happens like that every season. But I’m about to be 35 in 16 days and I feel good. I’m in a good spot with health and strength and body and how fast I can get my little quick-twitch muscles firing.”
Kelly extended his scoreless streak to 10 games spanning 10⅔ innings.
“It’s some of the best stuff in the league,” reliever Kendall Graveman, who pitched the ninth Tuesday for his fourth save, told the Tribune. “He’s in a really good mindset right now. He’s somebody who loves competing. He’s a guy you always want on your team because he hates to lose.”
Romy Gonzalez put the Sox ahead in the seventh, lining a two-run double on the first pitch with the bases loaded and the score tied. The Sox scored three in the inning, which they began trailing 2-1.
Dylan Cease allowed two runs on five hits with three strikeouts and two walks in six innings for the win. The Sox completed the game without center fielder Luis Robert Jr., who exited in the ninth with right hip tightness. He is day to day.
Kelly has a 1-1 record, a 2.51 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14 appearances. He has limited opponents to a .157/.173/.294 slash line.
“He’s got plus-plus stuff, some of the best stuff in the game,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “And now he’s got command with it with great confidence. He’s been doing this for a long time (first appearing in the big leagues in 2012). His stuff keeps getting better. It hasn’t deteriorated at all.
“Now he’s more experienced and able to manipulate the ball a little more and he’s able to control his rhythm and tempo to his delivery, and he’s got different deliveries and holds and sets. He’s a handful right now for opposing hitters.”
Kelly continues to vary his time to the plate with different leg hitches before throwing as the pitch clock winds down to disrupt a hitter’s timing.
“It’s fun,” Kelly said. “Baseball is a fun game and the pitch clock has added another element to my game, and if it’s there and it’s legal, it’s something I want to take advantage of.
“It’s like driving on the freeway that says 65 and the left lane is going 80. So if you can go 80, why not go 80? There’s no reason for us not to have fun playing baseball.”
Kelly has played an important part for a bullpen that’s having a good month. Through Monday, Sox relievers were second in the majors in opponents average (.198) and third in ERA (2.69) since May 1.
“Everyone is pitching well,” Kelly said. “I said in spring training we were capable of doing this. We’ve had the arms and obviously in the beginning of the year we had some struggles.
“As a unit, we communicate well with each other. We communicate well with our staff. And we kind of know when guys need a day or don’t need a day. When a guy is hanging, we are able to give him that day off and put another guy in there.
“Everyone is getting reps, and reps is big at anything. The reps we’ve been able to disperse among the pen has been helpful for everybody.”
Eloy Jiménez begins rehab assignment
Eloy Jiménez left the Sox on Tuesday to begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Birmingham. The Barons are on the road facing the Tennessee Smokies through Sunday.
“He’ll go down there for three, four days,” Grifol said. “We’ll evaluate him and see when we can add him.”
Jiménez, on the injured list after undergoing an appendectomy May 6, will see time in right field and at designated hitter when he returns.
“That’s why he’s going on the rehab to make sure everything is ready,” Grifol said, “and when he gets back, he’s going to play where needed.”
Infielder Elvis Andrus is close to a rehab assignment as well. He has been on the IL since May 13 with a strained left oblique.
“Elvis is doing really good,” Grifol said. “Went out there (Tuesday at Progressive Field), ran, threw, hit, very little restrictions if any. Will probably go on a rehab assignment … middle to late next week.”