BOSTON — Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly claims he was a better skateboarder than a baseball player growing up.
Should we believe him? After all, he’s a noted prankster.
During his time pitching at the University of California Riverside, he purposely provided false information for his online athletic biography.
His bio stated he’s a distant relative of notorious gangster George “Machine Gun” Kelly.
“They give you a sheet to fill out and I just made that up just for fun and people thought it was real,” Kelly said from his locker Friday at Fenway Park.
When the athletic department finally discovered the fib, a simple line was placed on the top of Kelly’s bio.
It read: “Joe Kelly is not actually related to George “Machine Gun” Kelly. We have left the erroneous information that he provided for us in this deprecated bio for posterity.”
Funny man Kelly was traded from St. Louis to Boston with Allen Craig for John Lackey on July 31. He has allowed just three earned runs (2.08 ERA) in two starts for Boston.
The 26-year-old right-hander, who’s 6-1, 175 pounds, has a 3.19 ERA in 70 career outings, including 40 starts. He will start against the Houston Astros here Sunday (1:35 p.m. start).
While Kelly always has been quite humorous — there’s a video on YouTube.com of him dancing in the outfield before a Cardinals game — he hasn’t always been a very good pitcher.
He posted a 1.32 ERA in 27.1 innings of relief his freshman year of college but it ballooned to 9.35 in 17.1 innings as a sophomore and 5.65 in 28.2 innings as a junior.
But the Cardinals still selected him in the third round of the 2009 draft because his fastball reached the high-90s.
Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom spent from 2008-11 as the St. Louis Cardinals minor league pitching instructor and 2012-13 as their minor league pitching coordinator.
Strom was with Kelly with the Batavia Muckdogs of the Class-A New York/Penn League.
“He had about an 8.00 ERA as the closer at UC Riverside and he threw 97 mph,” Strom said. “We saw the really good arm and what we saw immediately ... was how easily hitters saw the ball against him.”
That explained why hitters were crushing him.
“So we went to work on his delivery,” Strom said. “He hides the ball much better. This is a terrific athlete. This is not just a good athlete. This is a great athlete. He can run, he can hit, he can field, he’s quick.
“He has a power arm. He’s a fun-loving guy who competes especially well, and he’s just a joy to be around. He was one of my favorite pitchers I had in that organization.”
Kelly — who started Game 3 of last year’s World Series against Boston — displayed his athleticism in his first two games with the Red Sox, both interleague game at National League ballparks.
He stroked a single in both games and became the first Boston pitcher since Bill Landis in 1969 to steal a base when he swiped third base Tuesday against the Reds.
Kelly comes from an athletic family. His father, Joe Kelly Sr., played wide receiver at Vanderbilt (eight career TD catches) and signed as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers. He was cut but starred for a year for the Los Angeles Cobras of the Arena League with 35 catches and 11 TDs in 1988.
The younger Kelly went into his freshman year at UC Riverside as a center fielder. But his college pitching coach saw his cannon arm and converted him to a closer.
When Kelly joined the Cards organization, he worked to develop new pitches and better mechanics.
“Try to be more fluid with it,” he said. “Try to hide the ball a little bit better — not fly open as much. It was something we worked on throughout the minor leagues. ... We sat down as a group and (discussed) what I needed to do to be successful and that’s what I started doing.”
Kelly’s best pitch is his power sinker.
“It’s a hard 95, 96 (MPH) heavy sinker,” Strom said. “He induces a ton of ground balls. His breaking ball has improved. ... I can’t tell you I’m looking forward to seeing him pitch (against Houston) because he’s an exceptional pitcher.”
Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB