GLENDALE, Ariz. — Don’t forget about White Sox right-hander Joe Kelly. The veteran reliever signed to a two-year, $17 million deal on March 14 is doing fine as he slow-rolls it toward the start of the season.
Kelly said he is two or three weeks behind other White Sox relievers in his throwing progression toward the regular season. He hopes to be pitching for the Sox by the end of April.
Throwing pain free in camp, Kelly is over a nerve issue in his elbow that bothered him last season. But the Sox, familiar with a similar problem Aaron Bummer dealt with late in the 2020 seasons, are choosing to not rush Kelly into action.
“The ball is coming out good for where they expected it to be, the body is moving a lot quicker,” said Kelly, who was scheduled to throw his second bullpen on Friday. “We’re just making sure we stay with the game plan and don’t push it.”
Kelly “gets jumpy” being asked to hold back but is trusting the process.
“It’s something they’ve been through with Bummer and know what to do, so just follow their lead,” he said.
When Kelly pitches live batting practice and gets into a Cactus League will depend on passing the eye test with coaches and trainers, he said.
One of the Sox’ big investments in their expensive bullpen featuring Craig Kimbrel ($16 million in 2022), Liam Hendriks ($13 million), Kendall Graveman ($8 million) and Bummer ($2.5 million), Kelly signed a two-year, $17 million contract, which includes a club option for the 2024 season on March 14. He posted a 2.86 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over 48 relief appearances last season with the Dodgers.
A groundball pitcher with 27.5% strikeout rate, Kelly features a fastball that averaged 97.8 mph last season, a lot of oomph emerging from his 6-1, 174-pound frame. That fastball velocity tied for ninth-highest among pitchers with at least 40 innings.
The 2022 readings will have to wait a bit, though. Kelly, 33, said Opening Days and playoffs — Kelly has appeared in 40 postseason games with the Cardinals, Red Sox and Dodgers — are special “and you only get to be part of so many” so watching it from a distance won’t be easy.
“We’re just making sure I don’t push it too hard,” Kelly said.
“Things are what they are. We’ll have our time and it’ll be a fun year.”