Cards' Kelly takes advantage of starting opportunity -

Cards' Kelly takes advantage of starting opportunity

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By Scott Bierman By Scott Bierman

(BaseballStL) -- Having started this season in the bullpen, Joe Kelly is beginning to make a name for himself in the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation -- and at the most opportune time.

Dealing with the typical muggy August night in St. Louis, Kelly fended off a resilient Atlanta Braves team with a career-high 109 pitches over six innings in a 6-2 win. It was the kind of start the Cardinals have seen on a regular basis from the reliever-turned-starter since joining the rotation last month.

“I see him as a pitcher who is trying to continue to get better,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s doing all of the little things right between his starts. He jumped on an opportunity and we love to see a guy compete like that.”

Kelly wasn’t battling only the Braves and heat, he struggled to locate many of his pitches, and despite walking only two batters, the right-hander went to three-ball counts to seven of the 26 batters faced on Thursday.

“I was just trying to compete,” Kelly said. “I didn’t have any of my good stuff at all today. I just went out there and tried to battle the whole time from pitch one to the last pitch. Nothing was easy.”

The only permanent mark left on Kelly’s night came in the form of a 410-foot home run hit by Justin Upton, his 24th of the season, to give Atlanta a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning -- his first home run allowed since July 6. But it might be the effectiveness of ground ball outs that may leave a lasting impression on the 25 year old.

“To come out with a win, it’s huge to know that you can get guys to hit ground balls and not have your best stuff,” Kelly said.

In Thursday’s win, Kelly recorded 10 ground outs to three fly outs. It was his best ground ball-fly ball ratio as a starter this season.

“I’m hoping he’s just seeing the benefits of when he does get the ball on the ground what can happen,” Matheny said. “He can still strike a guy out, but I think he’s going to continue to have a lot of success as he’s working the bottom of the zone and trusting his defense to play behind.”

Kelly is now 5-0 in eight starts since joining the rotation. He hasn’t lost a game in nearly three months. Earlier this season, Matheny admitted Kelly was looked over as a starting pitcher because of the parade of young arms that was being called up from Triple-A Memphis.

“I think we were real quick, and I think Derek Lilliquist has been saying this since spring training, ‘don’t forget what this kid did for us last year,’” Matheny recalled. “When you see some of these other live arms coming through, you do forget how good he was for us. He’s been that good and even improved since then.”

Opposite of 2013, Kelly began his season with St. Louis as a starter in June last year. He made 12 consecutive starts before bouncing between the bullpen and starting rotation before ending the year as a reliever. In 16 starts last season, Kelly posted a 4-6 record with a 3.74 ERA. The record clearly deserved to be better, especially considering he went 0-4 with a 2.67 ERA in five starts last July.

Now he’s getting his chance and making an impressive mark: 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA in nine starts. For a Cardinals team that has lacked consistency over the last month, it’s becoming a calm feeling every time Kelly takes the mound.

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