Red Sox hedge on Joe Kelly; could Brian Johnson be next?

BOSTON -- It’s hard to imagine Pawtucket left-hander Brian Johnson making a stronger case for being promoted to the big leagues than the one he made Wednesday night in McCoy Stadium.

With manager John Farrell saying the club had yet to decide whether Joe Kelly would remain in the rotation and GM Ben Cherington in Pawtucket Wednesday night, Johnson took the mound and allowed just one hit and one unearned run in 6 2/3 innings, his own error on a comebacker leading to that run.

Johnson walked one and struck out seven, and of the 93 pitches he threw, 71 were strikes, an outstanding 76.4 percent. He retired 12 Rochester hitters on groundballs, one via a flyout.

According to Tim Britton of the Providence Journal, Johnson went through a 15-batter stretch in which he did not throw a single pitch while behind in the count, and 11 of his 20 outs came within three pitches. He did not have a three-ball count until the seventh inning.

Johnson also survived a collision with Rochester’s Danny Ortiz on a play at first base with two out in the seventh. Johnson walked off under his own power, but was replaced by reliever Pat Light.

When Farrell was asked before Wednesday night's Red Sox game whether Kelly (2-5, 5.67 ERA) would make his next start, the manager hedged.

“Haven't made the decision on the next turn through the rotation,” he said. “The primary goal is we've got to get Joe to deliver the ball more consistently. You would think his athleticism would allow him to repeat a delivery and command the baseball better.

“There's no questioning that the walks are up a tick, per nine innings, as are the hits. All that suggests is that the command in the strike zone is inconsistent. We're working to get that ironed out more.”

One way to get that ironed out, of course, would be to send Kelly to the bullpen.

“That path hasn't been selected,” Farrell said. “The end game or the end goal is clearly to get him more consistent. How that path unfolds remains to be seen.”

Johnson may have forced Boston’s hand with his performance Wednesday night. He has gone six innings or more in eight of his last nine starts, and in seven of those outings has held opponents to two or fewer runs. Opposing hitters are batting .214 against him.

The Sox already have had success with two pitching call-ups -- knuckleballer Steven Wright and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. Wright was sent back to Pawtucket this week to make room for veteran Justin Masterson but gave the team a “solid” performance, Farrell said, while he was with Boston. Rodriguez, meanwhile, has been a sensation.

Could fellow left-hander Johnson be next?

“You're always looking at guys to capture some momentum with the way they're pitching and look to insert them to get some contributions,” Farrell said. “I'd be the first to sign up if there's another Eduardo Rodriguez waiting to step in.

“Setting that aside, we're looking at everything that's available to us.”