What took you so long?
That is the question many Cardinals fans are probably asking John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny after Joe Kelly turned in another strong performance tonight, leading the Cards to victory over the Pirates and ending the team's 7-game skid.
Kelly pitched 6 scoreless innings, giving up just 3 hits and striking out 4. Although he also walked 4 hitters, he kept the ball on the ground, inducing 7 groundouts to just 3 flyouts, including one double-play. Oh, and he also went 2 for 3 at the plate, scoring a run.
After losing the 5th starter battle to Shelby Miller in the spring, the Cardinals decided to use Kelly in a long relief role instead of letting him start in the minors to keep him stretched out. The result was that he was used very little--just 18.2 innings through May, and was ineffective when he was used.
Around that time, with both Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook on the D.L., the Cardinals should have sent Kelly down to AAA to stretch him out and get him back on track. Instead, the team used a steam of 3 different rookies (John Gast, Tyler Lyons and Michael Wacha) to fill in, before finally turning to Kelly when they were in a pinch.
After making an emergency start on June 5th, in which he lasted 5.2 innings, despite not being stretched out, while giving up only 2 runs (1 earned), the Cardinals finally must have realized that Kelly was a capable starter, because, shortly after they decided to demote Wacha back to AAA to protect his arm, Kelly was named as the 5th starter (almost by default).
So far, Kelly has sparkled in the starting role. He is 2-1 as a starter, with a 1.84 ERA in 5 starts. He has allowed 2 or less runs in 4 of those starts, with his only clunker a 6 inning, 4 run effort against the Marlins.
In addition, its not as if Kelly was terrible as a starter last year. He compiled a 3.74 ERA in 16 starts. Put it all together and Kelly has a 6-7 record with a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts in the big leagues. Not too bad for the former college closer.
So, why did the Cardinals wait so long to use Kelly in the rotation? We may never find out the true answer to that question. But I'm glad he's there now and hopefully he'll continue to convince the team that he should stay there.