DETROIT -- The 2015 season hasn't been a walk in the park for Red Sox right-hander Joe Kelly. So, after a year in which he has struggled more than most, Kelly's latest start was a pleasant surprise, and a relief.
Kelly struck out seven and allowed two runs and two walks over 5 1/3 innings, as the Red Sox earned a 7-2 win over the Tigers in the opener of a three-game set at Comerica Park.
"The changeup's always felt good, but the slider definitely felt better today," Kelly said after his fourth win of the season. "Curveball, when I threw it, it felt pretty good."
A slider that also worked so well for Kelly, he recorded four swinging strikeouts on that pitch. Kelly struck out the side in back-to-back innings to start the game.
Kelly was, as manager John Farrell described, giving the Red Sox a "carbon copy" performance of another recent outing twice through the lineup. But the third time through the order, the command slipped, and as the evening progressed Detroit was able to get a read on Kelly.
Kelly exited in the sixth inning. Considering the season he's had more often than not, it was a much needed solid start. From there, the Red Sox's bullpen held the lead and kept the Tigers off the board for the final 3 2/3 innings. But if Kelly is going to build on it, he's going to need to control his pitches better the third time through the order.
"[Kelly] attacked the zone, he was down in the strike zone," Farrell said. "I thought he had probably one of the best changeups of the season, that he was able to throw to mostly left-handers, but certainly some right-handers, as well. A strong beginning.
"What we're seeing is, you get into those middle innings and you gotta pay a little bit closer attention."
As the game progressed, even after the bullpen took over, the Tigers had solid contact. And had it not been for some of Boston's defensive plays, more hits might have fallen in. The ninth might have had a different outcome were it not for closer Koji Uehara shutting down Detroit's developing rally for his 25th save. But on Friday night, Kelly set the tone.
Outings like these have not been common sights for Kelly, but they're the ones he, and the team, needs to see more often.
"I had a good mix of pitches going on early," Kelly said. "Trying to keep the hitters off-balance ... from the get-go. Trying not to let hitters attack us, really. Just a solid mix of offspeed. But honestly, we had great plays made out there. Jackie Bradley, obviously one of the best center fielders in the game. Brock [Holt] made a good play. I think that was just part of just trying to throw strikes and get ahead of guys, and let those guys work out there, especially with the big field."
Catherine Slonksnis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.