BOSTON -- When the Red Sox trim down to a normal five-man rotation next week, the final spot will come down to right-hander Joe Kelly and knuckleballer Steven Wright. And so with his starting job on the line, Kelly made a strong claim to keep it on Saturday by firing six innings of one-run baseball in Boston's 4-2 win over the A's.
Knowing the situation, did Kelly feel any extra pressure on the mound?
Kelly struck out six, scattered four hits and walked two while recording outs in a number of high-pressure situations. He retired eight of the last nine batters faced.
"I was commanding [my fastball]," Kelly said. "If I felt like I needed a little extra [velocity], I went for it in key situations where I needed a big out. I threw some good changeups today, got some early outs from those. Some swings and misses. So that was a really big help using that secondary pitch today."
One of the game's most pivotal junctures arose in the fourth inning, when Kelly allowed a double and issued a walk to put two men on with one out. In the middle of his next at-bat, pitching coach Carl Willis conferred with Kelly on the mound.
"He had about a six-pitch sequence where he came out of his delivery a little bit," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Pushed a number of fastballs up to his arm side. It was just more of a mechanical reminder which allowed him to get back down in the strike zone."
The meeting may have helped: Kelly got A's third baseman Max Muncy swinging at a strike-three fastball painted on the bottom edge of the strike zone, then sat down Mark Canha to escape the jam.
"Whether it's the last couple of starts or even going back to when he first arrived here last year, Joe's got the ability to rise to an occasion inside of a game," Farrell said. "Whether it's the ability to reach back and get a little extra velocity, whether it's making a key pitch as he's done the last two starts in particular with men in scoring position, he's got a way about him to keep a moment under control and still execute."
Before the game, Farrell said the team will more than likely move the eventual odd man out to the bullpen. The emergence of rookie lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who pitched sensationally in his first two starts, pushed the pressure onto Wright and Kelly.
Wright has been as dependable as they come for Boston, giving up no more than three earned runs and six hits in any of his four starts. Kelly entered the weekend 1-4 with a 5.83 ERA this season, and Farrell said the Sox will consider overall performance first and foremost in their upcoming decision.
But now that Kelly has allowed two runs or fewer in four of his last five starts, the challenge presented to Boston's leaders has only intensified.
"If there was an adjustment made by taking one of the current starters and putting him in the bullpen, what's the best combination?" Farrell said. "What's the best use of the stuff that's at your disposal? What's the best use of the talents and styles that are an option for you?"
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.