Red Sox reliever Zack Kelly emotional after leaving game with elbow injury

Red Sox reliever Zack Kelly left Wednesday’s game against the Rays with what appeared to be serious arm injury.

Kelly, who took over for starter Chris Sale in the fifth inning, had allowed two runs on two hits and a walk before facing Yandy Diaz with two outs. The right-hander plunked the Rays’ leadoff hitter with a 2-2, 81 mph changeup — the 23rd pitch of his outing.

While Diaz was in the process of taking his base, Kelly removed his glove and began grabbing at his right elbow. He then went into a crouch and became emotional as Red Sox manager Alex Cora and a member of the team’s training staff rushed to the pitcher’s mound to see what was wrong.

With tears in his eyes, Kelly left the field under his own power and made his way back towards the visitor’s clubhouse alongside Cora and a trainer. The Red Sox later described Kelly’s injury as “right elbow pain” but could not provide a more specific diagnosis.

When speaking with reporters (including’s Chris Cotillo) following the Red Sox’ 9-7 loss to the Rays on Wednesday night, Cora indicated that Kelly would undergo further testing back in Boston on Friday. Until then, there will be uncertainty surrounding the 28-year-old’s status for the rest of the season.

“It’s the elbow, he had surgery a few years ago,” Cora said. “Tough to see. Hopefully, there’s nothing wrong.”

Kelly, who first joined the Red Sox organization as a minor-league free agent in January 2021, previously underwent elbow surgery in May 2020. More specifically, he had an internal bracing procedure done in lieu of Tommy John surgery after tearing the UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) in his right arm.

Fast forward nearly three years since then, and Kelly said on Wednesday that he felt pain throughout the fifth inning. That pain only got worse and intensified to the point where he could not continue pitching. He did not feel a pop in his elbow, however.

“The last five or six pitches I threw, I felt it a little bit more,” said Kelly. “hat one, I just started turning the changeup over and didn’t really feel like I could turn it over like I’m used to.

“I told (Cora) after, I just tried to get through the inning and didn’t want to quick-start anybody in the bullpen,” he added. “Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do it.”

When asked about what led to him crying on the mound, Kelly responded by saying that his previous elbow injury and his unique journey to the major-leagues were both on his mind at that time.

“I was definitely emotional for two reasons,” he said. “One, because I care. I care about this game, these guys and I enjoy doing this. Two, just all the shit I went through to get here. It’s just a lot. Whenever something like that happens, you get emotional about it.”

A former undrafted free agent out of Division II Newberry College, Kelly made his big-league debut for Boston last August at the age of 27. He posted a 3.95 ERA in 13 appearances (13 2/3 innings) down the stretch and then made his first career Opening Day roster this spring.

Coming into play on Wednesday, Kelly had allowed just one earned run on four hits, five walks, and five strikeouts through his first five outings (6 2/3 innings) of the season. The Virginia native is now expected to be placed on the injured list ahead of Thursday’s series finale against Tampa Bay.

“I don’t want to assume the worst,” Kelly said. “I just want to wait until we get some imaging done and we’ll figure it out from there.”

The Red Sox will need to call up another pitcher to take Kelly’s spot on the roster. Fellow righty Kutter Crawford, who was recently optioned to Triple-A Worcester, is a logical choice under the pretense that he is still with the club.

UPDATE: Kelly was indeed placed on the 15-day injured list with right elbow inflammation on Thursday. Crawford was called up to take his place on the roster.

(Picture of Zack Kelly: Duane Burleson/Getty Images)


Author: Brendan Campbell

Blogging about the Boston Red Sox since April '17. Also support Tottenham Hotspur.

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