(BaseballStL) — One start removed from a hurried comeback outing in Milwaukee, Joe Kelly returned to action a changed pitcher.
He threw seven innings on 99 pitches, holding the potent Los Angeles lineup up to one run in 21 outs. The 25-year-old attributed his success to alterations he made in his strategy rather than improved control.
“I wouldn’t say my command was that much better,” he said, comparing Saturday to his start against the Brewers. “I would say just mixing them up more and knowing what’s coming. My curveball wasn’t where I wanted it, but I could throw it over the plate.”
Kelly acknowledged that he made some mechanical changes in his delivery but he didn’t want to “give away my secrets” as to what they were.
Still, it was 180 degrees different from eight days ago in Milwaukee where the talented right-hander struggled early and often and seemed completely out of rhythm.
Saturday, Kelly was slow and deliberate both between pitches and in his delivery.
“I worked for two days on these mechanics,” he said.
It showed. Kelly got two huge double plays in the first two innings and settled in to retire the last 13 batters he faced. Part of the credit, Kelly said, goes to Cardinal catcher George Kottaras who “called a great game.”
“I went up to talk to George every single inning,” he said. “He didn’t have to give a sign for the first two pitches basically. Every leadoff hitter we had a plan and just went from there.
Kottaras, starting his first game as a Cardinal, said he had never really worked with Kelly and the first time he caught him was when they played catch prior to the game.
“I learned about him by talking to him and watching videos (about what worked best),” he said. “I also faced him years ago so I knew a little about him. Today, his fastball was live and he was throwing change-ups in fastball counts. He got those two double plays by keeping the ball down.”
Kelly fanned four and got 14 ground balls, something he attributed to a varied attack with familiar weapons.
“We had three pitches going for us. We only threw three pitches and just tried to command all three of them for a strike,” he said. “Tried to get guys to beat it into the ground and get through innings a little quicker than usual.
The quick innings allowed him to tie the longest start of his career, closing his seven-inning outing by retiring 13 straight Dodgers. It was only the second time in his career hit reached seven innings.
“Getting into that position typically happens by attacking the strike zone,” Mike Matheny said afterward. The Cardinal manager described Kelly’s fastball as “electric,” and praised his secondary attack.
“I thought he had a very good curveball today and threw it for strikes; knew when to get it out for a chase. There were times I even thought his change up was a breaking ball it had so much depth to it. His secondary pitches were on today,” he said.
Kelly said he took the All Star break completely off, and only developed his new mechanics for two days before starting Saturday.
The Cardinals will desperately need him to drive deep into games down the stretch, and the California native said the recipe is simple.
“Throw every single pitch you have for a strike, keep hitters off balance, change the speeds,” he said. “It’s no secret. All the guys who do it have three pitches and throw guys off balance. They’re not serving cookies up there every single time.”
Kelly will face the Cubs in Chicago for his next start, as the Cardinals maintain a four-man rotation through the end of July.