BALTIMORE — If Alex Cora had his way, he would have stuck with Tyler Thornburg for the sixth inning of a 4-3 game in Baltimore.
Though he's still working his way back from major injury, Thornburg had recorded the final out of the fifth in short order. Cora felt confident sending him back out there.
But then the rains came.
After a lengthy delay, Thornburg couldn't return for a second inning of work, so Cora turned to Joe Kelly, who is very much still trying to work out the kinks.
"Where we were in the game we felt that was a good pocket for him. Two guys that are hitting .200 and a lefty in there," Cora said. "We have to trust him. He’s very important for us. It just didn’t happen."
It certainly didn't.
Trying to keep a deficit at one, Kelly put every batter in the Baltimore bottom third on base — two walks and a single — and the top of the order brought all three runs home. The 4-3 Orioles lead ballooned to 7-3, and the Red Sox never recovered.
"I don’t feel great, obviously," Kelly said afterwards "Going out there and I would say I haven’t been good for a while. I’m just trying to go out there and figure out a way to throw the ball the way I want to again."
With an ineffective Kelly, the Red Sox bullpen has become far less fearsome. Just last month Kelly was the second most trusted arm Cora had, but he's been struggling mightily of late.
"We need to get better. He needs to get better," Cora said. "I don’t know how we’re going to do that but that’s a guy who’s very important to what we’re trying to accomplish and right now we don’t have that guy. We have to keep working, get him right, his stuff is there it’s just a matter of trying to get him back to where he was."
Kelly entered June on a heck of a roll, allowing one run in 24 appearances. Since then? He's given up 17 earned runs in his 15 1/3 innings, walking as many batters as he's struck out.
The flamethrower has skidded before, but with the pennant race heating up, he needs to steer out of it sooner rather than later.
"It’s not the end of the world," Kelly said. "I’ve pitched good before, I’ve pitched bad before. It’s the game of baseball. I have all the confidence in the world in myself. I’m fighting out there and doing whatever I can to get back to where I was.
"We have a great staff here," he continued. "We have the best in the world. We have the best pitching coach, the best manager, Brian Bannister. There are a bunch of guys you can put there. I feel like I’m getting closer. It’s just that level of comfort to get back to where I was and go from there."
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Eagle-Tribune and CNHI Sports Boston. Email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason