While the St. Louis Cardinals were originally hoping Joe Kelly would shore up the back end of their rotation, he’s looked more like someone who belongs in the front.
Looking to extend his personal winning streak to nine, Kelly tries to lead the NL Central-leading Cardinals to a season-high-tying sixth consecutive victory in Thursday night’s series finale against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers.
Kelly (8-3, 2.74 ERA) has greatly surpassed expectations since transitioning to the rotation July 6, going 8-0 with a 2.10 ERA in 11 outings. St Louis has won all but one of those games while backing him with an average of 6.58 runs of support.
The right-hander is looking to win a sixth straight start after yielding one run in six innings to beat Pittsburgh 12-8 on Friday.
“You’ve just got to make pitches when you need to,” said Kelly, who surrendered a season-high-tying eight hits and three walks. “I just tried to battle … and make pitches when I needed to.”
Though it wasn’t his sharpest display, Kelly induced 13 groundouts and managed to avoid the big inning.
“That’s something we didn’t give him a lot of opportunity to do early in the year,” manager Mike Matheny told MLB’s official website. “When he got in trouble, we would normally try and get him out. … He’s earned that opportunity to work himself through it and he continues to be able to get big outs when he needs to.”
Another solid showing could help the Cardinals (85-60) inch closer to the division title. Currently one game ahead of second-place Pittsburgh, St. Louis has won five in a row, including its last four by a 23-5 margin. Matheny’s club won six straight April 30-May 5.
Leading the majors with 114 runs, Matt Carpenter has scored 14 and hit .390 in 10 games this month. Matt Holliday has four homers and an NL-best 20 RBIs since Aug. 21.
The Cardinals stayed hot Wednesday in a 5-1 victory, their 12th in 15 matchups versus Milwaukee (62-82). Matt Adams capped a four-run eighth inning with a two-run homer, and Holliday added two hits and two runs.
“I’m frustrated,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “I’m tired of getting leads and just giving them away. We’ve got to win some of these games where we get leads.”
Losers in eight of 11, the Brewers will try to bounce back behind Tyler Thornburg (1-1, 2.08). The right-hander is 0-1 despite a 1.13 ERA in four starts this year.
“I wouldn’t say I’m more comfortable (starting). It’s just what I’m used to. I’m sure if I’m in the bullpen for two or three years, I’m sure I’ll get comfortable with that,” said Thornburg, who could be auditioning for a spot in next year’s rotation.
He takes the mound for the first time since allowing two runs in six innings in a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.
In his only appearance versus St. Louis, Thornburg surrendered two solo homers and four walks in 4 2/3 innings of a 4-3 victory July 18, 2012.
Kelly, who went 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA in three starts versus Milwaukee last season, has yielded four runs in three innings of relief this year. Norichika Aoki is 5 for 9 with two doubles in their matchups.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, hitting .318 with 11 homers and 65 RBIs in 120 games, missed Wednesday’s win due to what Matheny called a family situation. Brother Bengie Molina, the club’s assistant hitting coach, is also away from the team.