Kelly lets his swag shine through in Pittsburgh

ST. LOUIS — The Cardinals didn’t just end their seven-game losing streak Thursday night at Pittsburgh. They stomped it into the Allegheny River with a 13-0 romp over the Pirates that included 17 hits and a strong start by Joe Kelly.

Four more numbers to take away:

No more seeking a No. 5

Even before the offense broke out against Charlie Morton, not all of the Cardinals were having a miserable trip. Right-hander Joe Kelly shut out the Braves for 6 1/3 innings last Saturday, but that paled to his contribution Thursday when he worked six scoreless innings in what he called a high-energy, high-focus outing.

Though Mike Matheny likes having Kelly as a long reliever, the 25-year-old right-hander has a starter’s stuff. His secondary pitches weren’t particularly sharp against the Pirates but he still thrived behind a fastball that averages nearly 95 mph.

“He was very good, he had a real good fastball going,” Matheny said in post-game remarks shown on Fox Sports Midwest. “He was amped today. He had a little swag to him, a little attitude and I love it. He went out and made really good pitches with his fastball. Set the tone.”

In his five starts this season, Kelly’s ERA is down to 1.34. It could be time to give him the freedom to work a little deeper into games. Matheny appears to be trending in that direction as Kelly has gone from 73 pitches to 86 to 102 in his past three starts.

The most athletic pitcher on the team, Kelly also was one of seven Cardinals to collect at least two hits against the Pirates. One was an infield hit to the pitcher in which Kelly made it to first as quickly as any Cardinal has all season.

Holliday settling into the No. 4 spot

Flopping Allen Craig and Matt Holliday in the batting order was nothing more than one of those shake-things-up-a-little move. But the way the switch has worked out the first two games, I’d be surprised if Holliday doesn’t stay in the cleanup spot for a while.

He has five hits in the past two games and improved to 11 for 29 (.379) since coming off the disabled list Saturday. As for Craig in the three-hole, after ending an 0-for-23 slump Wednesday, he added two hits on Thursday and ended his RBI-less streak at nine games.

In the past two nights, Craig and Holliday also came close to joining Yadier Molina as the only Cardinals player to hit a home run since the All-Star break. Craig came about two feet short of clearing the left-field fence on Thursday while Holliday came about two inches of putting a ball in the right-field seats on Wednesday.

No. 48 might be OK

It’s only two games but backup catcher Tony Cruz has shown the catcher’s position might not be the weak link many assumed it would become after Yadier Molina went on the disabled list Wednesday.

While Cruz and Adam Wainwright took a few innings to get on the same page Wednesday night, it was smooth sailing for Kelly with No. 48 behind the plate. “It looked like Joe put a lot of faith in what Tony was doing,” Matheny said.

Cruz also had his first three-hit game since his big-league debut in 2011.  

Losing streak means 7 days for the Chief

One positive that could emerge from the losing streak was a week of unintended but still-useful rest for closer Edward Mujica. Though the 29-year-old right-hander appears to be tireless, such a long break at this point of the season will not hurt him if the Cardinals play as deep into October as they hope.

Mujica got a 12-pitch tuneup when he worked the ninth inning Thursday, allowing one hit.
 
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.