Joe Kelly’s first season with the Dodgers was more down than up, but a mid-season stretch showed promise for the flame-throwing right-hander. Unfortunately, that promise went up in smoke when the Nationals and Howie Kendrick connected on a season-ending gut punch last October.
Thankfully Kelly wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.
Dodgers fans have seen first hand what the Corona native can do when he’s right. It turns out that he was wrong for most of the 2019 season. Both in body and with his pitches. While he remains reluctant to dive into the body issues — a sort of “overall-body-itus” — he was an open book when talking about his pitches.
At the time before all this happened, I was essentially throwing a one-finger fastball. My index finger was coming off the heater. I was losing spin efficiency. I couldn’t throw my four-seamer for a strike. Then if I did throw it for a strike, it was going to be hit.
During spring training 1.0, Kelly was part of the Dodger contingent who made their way to Driveline Baseball’s Washington headquarters for answers. All the tech and cameras showed him that issue. He was throwing his 4-seam fastball with one finger on the ball through release. Moreover, the reliever said the issues with that 4-seamer forced him to go to his less effective 2-seamer more often than not in 2019.
It seemed like things were coming together for the 32-year-old during camp at Camelback Ranch in February and March… then it stopped. COVID shut down baseball, but that wasn’t going to shut down Joe Kelly.
He picked up a net, some Clean Fuego baseballs — designed by Dodgers’ assistant pitching coach Connor McGuinness to provide instant feedback on a thrower’s spin efficiency — and went to work at home. Even through the famous broken window, the reliever was nothing but happy with his time working at home.
The time I spent with myself throwing into the net was truly a blessing just for the fact that I knew what I needed to do to get better which was throwing the fastball. … And for me to be working on that on my own — I didn’t have the technology to tell — but for the most part, I was working on trying to get my fastball to come off both of my fingers at the same time.
Kelly pitched in his first intrasquad game last week and immediately loved the results. With Kenley Jansen and Pedro Baez still not at Dodger Stadium for summer camp as of this writer, and Blake Treinen still working on his mechanics, Joe Kelly is suddenly thrust into a spot of great importance. And a fully functioning Kelly could be just what the doctor ordered for Los Angeles during this 60 game sprint of a season.