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Kelly: ‘I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling’

03.03.10 at 2:45 pm ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Though his outing against Northeastern University lasted just one perfect inning, spanning 10 pitches, Red Sox pitcher Casey Kelly could not help but beam.

The setting was not to be confused with that of a major league game. Kelly, a 2008 first-round pick out of Sarasota High School, was pitching in the Sox’ exhibition opener against a college. Indeed, the right-hander — who would have been a college sophomore had he accepted a scholarship to play baseball and football at the University of Tennessee — joked that he “finally made that college debut.”

Even so, there was a significance to his first game activity of 2010. Kelly was able to take stock of the experienced big leaguers on the field behind him to feel as if he had achieved a meaningful milestone.

“I don’€™t think I’€™ve stopped smiling since I got off the mound. It was a good first outing. To have the crowd and all those people behind me playing defense was a tremendous honor,” said Kelly. “I was just excited to put that Red Sox uniform on, get to play on the same field as some of the big leaguers ‘€“ Bill Hall, Jacoby [Ellsbury], Jed Lowrie, Gil Velazquez. To throw to Victor Martinez, I think I was more nervous about throwing to him than to face hitters. I felt good out there, and I’€™m excited to get that first outing out of the way.”

Kelly threw 10 pitches, seven for strikes, punching out two Northeastern hitters (both on changeups) and getting another to ground out on a first pitch fastball. His fastball registered 90-92 mph, roughly the same velocity that he displayed throughout his first pro season.

There were moments of confusion, such as when catcher Martinez shook his head while calling pitches, an indication that he wanted the pitcher to deliver a “fake shake” of his own head. Kelly was unfamiliar with the process.

“I was kind of confused,” Kelly admitted, “but afterwards we laughed about it.”

Martinez was not laughing, however, about what he saw from Kelly on the mound. Instead, he marveled at the fact that a 20-year-old who has just a half-season of pro pitching experience (after splitting his time between the mound and shortstop last year) could look like such a natural on the mound.

“I just heard that [he’s just become a full-time pitcher]. That’€™s amazing. Shortstop, going to pitch? That’€™s amazing. I thought he signed as a pitcher. His delivery and all that, it was pretty good,” said Martinez. “The kind of stuff he’€™s got is amazing for the time he’€™s been pitching.

“He has some great stuff. He was throwing his fastball in and out, mixing it with his curveball, changeup. He only threw one inning, but he threw pretty good pitches, quality pitches.”

Though Kelly pitched at Busch Stadium in St. Louis last July in front of tens of thousands of fans for the All-Star Futures Game, he still admitted that there were nerves entering his Wednesday outing. And so, in pitching in a game for the first time since that July contest, Kelly could appreciate the fact that he was dealing with butterflies, and that he was able to gain enough composure to execute his pitches.

“For me, it was kind of getting that first outing out of the way, getting those jitters, kind of understanding how the routine is, going about throwing your pen, how the timing matches up with the game,” said Kelly. “You just kind of get the first one out of the way, take a deep breath and breathe, kind of look at how things went, how my stuff was for the game.

“I was very, very nervous going in. Once I got on the mound, the competition takes over and you want to do your best,” he added. “It felt like I had been doing it for a while now. It felt like I didn’€™t take an eight-month break. I felt good out there. It’€™s kind of like riding a bike: once you do it once, it came back pretty fast.”

Kelly said that he is next scheduled to pitch on Sunday in Sarasota against the Orioles. Though his time in big-league camp, in all likelihood, will not last too long beyond that, Kelly is nevertheless using his opportunity as a learning experience that, he hopes, will have practical application down the road.

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