PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Casey Kelly says he’s on the Portland Sea Dogs team for now.

“I’ll keep pitching and whatever bus they tell me to go on, I’m going to get on,” Kelly said.

However Kelly travels out of Florida next week — bus, plane or automobile — he can only be headed to one location: Portland.

If Kelly pitches like he did Tuesday in spurts against the Tampa Bay Rays, there’s no way he’ll go back to Class A.

Those days are in the rearview mirror. Kelly, 20, is ready for Double-A and beyond.

Mike Hazen, the Red Sox director of player development, wouldn’t commit but did allow that Kelly is “very likely” coming to Maine.

And if he pitches like the Red Sox think he will, Kelly will be one of the most memorable pitchers to don a Sea Dogs uniform.

We’re talking about a franchise that has featured Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon.

“I think we know he’s a pretty special kid,” Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said.

The box score didn’t look real special Tuesday: three innings, four hits, two runs and two walks.

But were it not for two full-count walks in the third, along with a bunt single and Carlos Pena’s two-run single, we would be glowing about Kelly’s shutout outing, along with his four strikeouts.

He struck out B.J. Upton twice. He battled Carl Crawford in a nine-pitch at-bat, striking him out with a fastball on the outside corner. And he struck out Jason Bartlett, making him look silly on two change-ups.

“(Bartlett) had no chance on those,” Boston catcher Dusty Brown said. “(Kelly) threw some really good change-ups. He had a good two-seamer.

“For him to have that composure for such a young guy, that’s huge.”

Composure. The word comes up often, as do similar descriptions when others talk about Kelly.

Francona: “Good poise.”

His friend and teammate, Anthony Rizzo: “Confident.”

Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper: “Makeup through the roof.”

Kipper had Kelly in low Class A Greenville last year. It was Kelly’s second year in the pros but his first as a pitcher.

If you have followed the Kelly story, you know he was drafted as a shortstop and pitcher out of Sarasota (Fla.) High, just up the road from Fort Myers. He played shortstop in rookie ball in 2008, then did double duty last year — pitching the first half of the season and playing short the second half.

The Red Sox mandated only one position this year and with Boston’s influence, Kelly chose the mound.

Kipper knew it was the right decision.

“You’re talking about a delivery that works really, really easy,” Kipper said. “It allows him, at 20 years old, to command the strike zone.

“He has an ability to throw the ball to both sides of the plate pretty consistently.

“All the secondary pitches are going to be very legitimate. His change-up is, right now. The curve is developing.”

And Kelly only will get better.

“That’s the fun part of it,” Francona said. “If you look at the video (of other young pitchers), like a Lester. It doesn’t look like they’re the same players.

“They get stronger. They get bigger. They understand the game more. It’s a fun process.”

The Lester comparison could be good news for the Sea Dogs. Lester arrived in Portland in 2005 as a 21-year-old full of potential. While other pitchers were promoted that season (Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen), the Red Sox didn’t want to rush Lester, and he remained with the Sea Dogs all season.

Kelly looked nearly major league-ready Tuesday. After allowing a leadoff double to Bartlett, he retired six of the next seven batters.

He got the ball up a little in the third, leading to trouble. But even the young Kelly didn’t despair, focusing on the positive.

“You want to throw shutout innings, but to have runners on and dealing with those situations is only going to help me become a better pitcher,” he said. “Learning how to hold the runners and make big pitches when you have guys on base to limit the damage.”

As for his composure, Kelly laughed. “I give off that vibe but inside I’m really nervous,” he said. “But you can’t let anybody see that.

“After the first pitch, the nerves went away and it was the same game I’ve been playing since I was a Little Leaguer.”

Little League? Maybe that’s his secret. He plays the game like a kid.

Rizzo, his roommate in Greenville last year, said Kelly “hasn’t let the hype get to him. He’s the same Casey Kelly.”

Kipper said Kelly is “a guy that loves baseball. He’s always happy when he steps on the field.”

And when Kelly is on the field, he usually can hear his mom, Becky, cheering. She sat in the Charlotte Stadium seats Tuesday.

“She was the only voice I heard,” Kelly said. “She said, ‘Let’s go Casey,’ just like she always had.

“Anywhere I am, I can always hear her voice. Even when I got in trouble when I was a kid, I could always hear her down the street.”

Now the trouble comes from batters stepping in with runners on. As the Sea Dogs will find out, a poised Kelly handles himself just fine.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]