As Kelly handed the game ball to manager John Farrell during the fourth inning of Boston's 6-4 loss to the Orioles, he shook his head in dismay as he walked from the mound to the Red Sox's dugout. Over 3 2/3 innings, the right-hander allowed five runs on eight hits and a pair of walks in what was his second-shortest start of the season.
"There's no argument there," Kelly said. "I wasn't throwing the ball where I wanted to and the skipper decided it was time."
The defeat dropped Kelly to 2-5 on the year and raised his ERA to 5.67. The outing also marked the eighth time in 14 starts that he has lasted fewer than six innings.
Asked about Kelly's role moving forward, Farrell seemed to indicate that the team would at least discuss whether the 27-year-old should remain in the starting rotation.
"We haven't had a chance to review all that, but I think we're certainly well aware of some of the up-and-down path it's been for Joe to this point," Farrell said.
Knuckleballer Steven Wright, optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday afternoon, posted a 3.91 ERA across four starts for the Sox. Before the game, Farrell explained that Wright did not "pitch his way out of here" and praised his consistency.
Despite Kelly entering the matchup with a .227 opponents' average versus left-handers, the Orioles' lefties went 5-for-9 against him and inflicted most of their damage in the pivotal four-run second inning.
After Baltimore began the frame by smacking three straight singles and plating a run on a sacrifice fly, outfielder David Lough turned on a 3-2 fastball and deposited it in the visitor's bullpen for a three-run homer, sticking the Sox with an early four-run deficit.
"Just a little bit of a fastball command issue there," Kelly said. "Try to go in to some lefties and yanked them. My other side of the plate was good tonight. Just left some fastballs over the middle of the plate that they got some hits on."
With an electric fastball that regularly sits around 97 mph and quality secondary pitches, few will deny that Kelly possesses the tools and potential to regain the success he flashed earlier in his career with the Cardinals. Whether the Red Sox continue allowing him to sort through his command issues in the rotation, however, remains to be seen.
"Just inconsistent command overall," Farrell said. "There's no questioning the stuff. It's just the ability to stay with the consistent game plan because of the mislocated pitches. He'd miss off the plate, and then when he'd mislocate in the zone, it was a good pitch for them to square up. High number of base hits indicate that."
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com.