After struggling in his return last week from a three-month stint on the disabled list, Kelly looked a lot more like he did in the second half of 2013 when his performance rescued the Cardinals’ rotation.
The 26-year-old right-hander worked seven innings for only the second time in his career, allowing four hits and just one run to pitch the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday afternoon.
"That electric power," manager Mike Matheny said. "Joe was great."
Kelly had more than his power sinker working. He was able to throw his curveball and changeup for strikes enough to keep the Dodgers’ hitters off kilter. Thirteen of his 21 outs came on ground balls, and another four came on strikeouts.
The key, however, was as much in his delivery as in his stuff. Kelly said he altered his mechanics after the club noticed he was tipping his pitches against the Brewers last week, when he went only three innings and gave up six runs.
"It’s a good start," he said. "I’m going to keep doing it as much as I can to try to mix up pitches and hide stuff better."
After the Dodgers scored with two out in the third, Kelly retired the final 13 batters he faced. "His secondary pitches were on and he was able to ramp it up," Matheny said. "He was on pitch 90 and still hitting 97. That was a real good day for Joe."
It was a good day for his team, too, which improved to 10-5 in July. Carlos Martinez will start against Clayton Kershaw on Sunday night when the Cardinals go for a sweep of the Dodgers.
— The first inning. After Kelly induced a double-play grounder to avoid trouble in the top of the first, the Cardinals’ offense went to work. Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter fell behind 0-2 to Zack Greinke but ended up working an eight-pitch walk that set the stage for St. Louis to take an early — and commanding — lead. The first four Cardinals scored as they took a first-inning lead for the third time in their past four games.
— Matt Adams. Served a hanging curve on the first pitch he saw, Adams slugged a two-run homer 385 feet into the right-field seats to put an exclamation point on the first inning and give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.
"Greinke’s got a great fastball, so you have to respect that," Adams said. "The curveball just popped up in the zone. When it does that, you know it’s a good one to swing at."
The homer was the Cardinals’ 14th in July, a total surpassed in the National League by only the Cubs.
— Trevor Rosenthal. He gave up a one-out single but induced a double play — the Cardinals’ third of the day — to earn his second save in two days. More impressive: He has needed only a total of 25 pitches to get through the two innings. The save was Rosenthal’s 30th of the season, tying him with Craig Kimbrel for the major-league lead.
— Matt Holliday. His bat has heated up but now his head is hurting. After driving in the Cardinals’ first two runs with a double, Holliday was diving back to second when his forehead collided with Hanley Ramirez’s shoulder. Holliday stayed in the game for four more innings before exiting for what the team called "precautionary reasons." The good news: He didn’t suffer a concussion and his status is considered day to day.
— Stopping Dee Gordon. The Dodgers had six hits and Gordon, their All-Star second baseman, had half of them. He also manufactured one of their two runs when he singled, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on an infield single. The stolen base was his majors-leading 44th of the season.
— Right-field production. With the rest of the lineup clicking, the Cardinals still are waiting for one of their right fielders to get going. Oscar Taveras got the start ahead of Allen Craig against Greinke but went 0 for 2 with a walk, his average dropping to .192. With lefty Paul Maholm relieving in the seventh, Craig was called on to pinch-hit for Taveras with two outs and a runner on third, but grounded out to end the inning.