After struggling through a debut season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Joe Kelly was confident he would be much improved in 2020. Kelly had recovered from knee, quad and arm trouble, and expected to be called upon in high-leverage situations.
That didn’t completely come to fruition as his season was interrupted before it truly got going. Kelly’s second appearance resulted in a benches-clearing incident with the Houston Astros. The right-hander pitched in five more games after that and wound up on the 10-day injured list due to shoulder inflammation.
Kelly to that point had thrown 6.1 scoreless innings but struggled with command. The IL stint also delayed the serving of a suspension handed down by MLB for his role in the heated exchange with Carlos Correa and the Astros.
Kelly’s ban was handed down the day after the game, though he remained eligible to play while the appeal process unfolded. That ultimately ended with an eight-game suspension being reduced to five — a length that still angered Kelly, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and team as a whole.
The Dodgers activated Kelly off the IL on Sept. 9, but he served the suspension and didn’t appear in a game until eight days later. He pitched in five games during September and finished the season with a 1.80 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.
The 32-year-old continued to be dogged by command issues during the postseason, most memorably when being called upon to bail out Kenley Jansen in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
Kelly issued back-to-back walks that loaded the bases before converting the save in a 6-5 win. “Never in doubt,” Clayton Kershaw quipped after the game. “We had it in our hands. That’s how Joe Kelly rolls. Joe likes to make it interesting for us.”
Kelly appeared in five postseason games and didn’t allow a run until his last — in Game 2 of the World Series.
Even with stretches of shaky command and a resistance to throwing his fastball, Kelly had a productive 2020 season. However, his best moment undeniably was a pouty face made at Correa, which went viral and became the basis of a mural down the street from Dodger Stadium.
Kelly is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract with the Dodgers. The deal includes a $12 million team option and $4 million buyout for 2022.
How Kelly factors into the Dodgers bullpen next season hinges on free agency. Pedro Baez and Blake Treinen are both on the open market, and it’s not beyond reason to believe only one or neither will return. Particularly with the Dodgers just trading for Corey Knebel.
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