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Monday, June 11, 2012

Joe Kelly Starts Off Strong; Cards Fall to Indians Anyway

Posted By on Mon, Jun 11, 2012 at 3:27 PM

George Custer: also not so good against Indians. 
  • George Custer: also not so good against Indians. 
The Cardinals have still never won a series against the Cleveland Indians. Ever. 

Seems weird, doesn't it? To say there's a team that another team has literally never beaten, at least in a series sense? That, in all the history of the game of baseball, the Cardinals have never gone up against the Indians and come out on top is just kind of hard to believe. 

It's true, though, and really not all that strange, I suppose, when you get right down to it. After all, the two teams are in opposite leagues (and always have been), so they've only been playing regularly since interleague play began, and the Indians haven't exactly been the kind of historic powerhouse you see in the World Series on a regular basis. So it's not like we're talking about a huge number of series over the years. Still, it just seems pretty bizarre. 

While the Cards may have failed to get the job done against Cleveland on Sunday, it wasn't due to a lack of trying by Joe Kelly, who took the mound in his major league debut. Kelly did pretty much everything one could have hoped for, especially considering the circumstances. 

The final line for Kelly in his first St. Louis start reads like so: 5 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 4 K. The seven hits is a little high, and he tiptoed in and out of trouble for a pretty fair percentage of his outing, but just one walk is very encouraging. 

It was fairly obvious Kelly was working through some definite nerves; he never could really get his breaking ball going and he looked tentative quite often. Even so, he held things together and gave the Cards a chance to win. You can't really ask for much more than that. 

The fastball was certainly as advertised; Kelly topped out at 96, and the pitch had nasty, boring life at times. The changeup looked very good as well, and the majority of the swings and misses Kelly got with his secondary pitches came off of the change. He threw a pair in the first inning in striking out Carlos Santana that were just absolutely beautiful. One of the most promising young hitters in all of baseball, and Kelly made him look completely overmatched, with two empty swings in the at-bat, both on the change. 

As good as the stuff looked at times, though, the location of said stuff wasn't all that consistent, and that's why the hit line reads seven instead of some much lower number. Kelly gave up plenty of hard contact, failing to put the ball where he wanted on a consistent basis, and a number of deep counts didn't help matters any. To his credit, he didn't give in, challenging the Cleveland hitters even in three ball counts, but when you're in a position of absolutely having to throw a strike major league hitters are going to put the barrel on the ball as often as not. 

For me, the biggest indication of Kelly's struggles to locate can be summed up by the number four. As in 4:4, or the groundout/flyout ratio Kelly posted on the day. This is a pitcher who has made his living in the minors by getting opposing hitters to pound the ball into the dirt; to see an equal numbers of outs in the air and on the ground is a clear sign he wasn't working the ball down in the zone the way he normally does. 

Still, all in all, you couldn't have asked for a much more encouraging debut from Kelly than what we saw Sunday. He looked tentative and nervous, and didn't locate particularly well, but the talent was obvious, and he never crumpled in tough situations. 

With Jaime Garcia looking increasingly likely to miss a very significant chunk of time, and Chris Carpenter's return still the stuff of legend, it looks like Joe Kelly might be in the Cards' rotation for a while. Luckily, he showed enough on Sunday that I don't think we need to hit the panic button just yet if he is. 

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