Dodgers trade addition Joe Kelly instantly pays off in win over Reds, but questions still linger for L.A. pitching staff

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Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly helped the Dodgers secure a win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday in Los Angeles, one day after Kelly was acquired in a trade. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly helped the Dodgers secure a win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday in Los Angeles, one day after Kelly was acquired in a trade. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

LOS ANGELES — “Let’s go Joe! Let’s go Joe!”

Cheers rang out in Dodger Stadium for the return of right-handed relief pitcher Joe Kelly, who was acquired by the Dodgers Friday in a trade with the Chicago White Sox.

In his first game after the trade, he played an important role in L.A’s 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night.

Kelly returns to the team he won the 2020 World Series with after a little over a year in Chicago. The UC Riverside product gained online notoriety in his last stint with the Dodgers after taunting Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa.

Ironically, the Dodgers traded for Kelly on the three-year anniversary of Kelly’s pouty-face meme.

While seeing Kelly back on the mound brought back fond memories for Dodgers fans, his presence may be key to bolstering a struggling pitching staff.

Kelly was quickly brought in after fellow reliever Caleb Ferguson, the Dodgers’ second pitcher of the night, squandered a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning. Ferguson allowed three hits and two runs in only 2/3 of an inning.

And although Kelly allowed two inherited baserunners to advance on a wild pitch and issued a walk to load the bases, he got out of trouble to end the inning with the score tied at 2-2.

“Joe’s a different bird,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think he just rises to the bigger moments. I liked the guys he was going to face … and he thrives on taking inherited runners.”

In the bottom of the sixth, Max Muncy broke up the tie with a solo home run, his second of the night, to make it 3-2. Muncy’s two-run homer in the first inning gave the Dodgers with an early lead.

But it was Kelly who stifled the building Reds momentum on Saturday, though his signing may not solve everything for a thin Dodgers pitching rotation.

The Dodgers held a 4.47 team ERA coming into Saturday’s game, ranking 21st out of the league’s 30 teams. With the slew of injuries that Los Angeles has dealt with, it’s no surprise why the pitching is inconsistent.

Veteran pitchers Walker Buehler and Dustin May have been out for the year due to injury. Buehler, an NL Cy Young candidate in 2021, underwent his second Tommy John surgery in August 2022 and still has a shot to return this season. May needs elbow surgery and is likely out for the season.

Longtime ace Clayton Kershaw had an inflamed shoulder during the Rockies series last month, but he’s working his way back. Kershaw was spotted pitching a simulated game before Saturday’s matchup.

Young pitchers, like Saturday’s rookie starter Emmet Sheehan, have been forced to step up and take on more responsibility. To secure Saturday’s win over the Reds, the Dodgers needed five pitchers, with three guys pitching less than a full inning.

Sure, having Kelly back to get the team out of a bases-loaded jam is pretty helpful. Lance Lynn, who was acquired in the same trade as Kelly, could pitch as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday.

As things stand, the Dodgers may still need extra pitching help. Saturday’s win over the Reds, highlighted by Kelly’s return, made for a solid night of baseball for the 51,015 fans in attendance. But is the current pitching lineup sustainable for the remainder of the season?

Time is winding down for the Dodgers to make another move. And they only have until Tuesday’s trade deadline to get a deal done.

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