Preview: Kelly takes the ball for Cards in Atlanta
The St. Louis Cardinals' fifth starter spot has been quite a revolving door this season, but for now, it's Joe Kelly's to lose.
That's assuming he remembers how to pitch.
Kelly hasn't seen game action in more than two weeks, but the visiting Cardinals are hoping he can pick up where he left off as he takes the mound Saturday against the Atlanta Braves.
St. Louis (62-38) has tried Kelly, Tyler Lyons, John Gast and Michael Wacha at the end of its rotation over the past few months, with each having varying degrees of success.
The Cardinals have only needed a fifth starter twice since June 22, but there are no longer conveniently placed off days on the schedule. Beginning with a home sweep of Philadelphia earlier this week, St. Louis has 21 games in a 20-day stretch before its next scheduled rest Aug. 12.
That means some additional opportunities for Kelly (1-3, 3.88 ERA), who has mainly worked in long relief but made a pair of starts prior to the All-Star break. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.18 ERA in three starts this season and 1-0 with a 2.49 ERA in his last four outings overall, going at least five innings apiece in a pair of long relief appearances and two starts.
"I don't look too far ahead about anything," Kelly said after allowing one run over 5 1/3 in a 3-2 win over the Cubs on July 12. "I go out there and when they tell me to pitch, I pitch. That's what's good about being versatile, and I'm just still happy to be here."
That, however, is the last time Kelly has taken the mound, marking his longest gap between pitches in the majors.
It's been a day longer since Matt Holliday last stepped into the batter's box, but he's set to come off the disabled list. The left fielder has passed all of the necessary running tests to return after straining his hamstring on July 11.
He'll be taking the field in a venue where he's fared quite well. Holliday is a career .383 hitter in 23 games at Turner Field - his best average of any road site where he's played at least 10 games -- and he'll bring a 16-game hitting streak in Atlanta into his first look at Julio Teheran (7-5, 3.25).
The right-hander's 2.73 ERA since the beginning of June is tied for the best in the Braves' rotation over that span with Tim Hudson, who's out for the season with a fractured ankle. Teheran held the Mets to one run over six innings Monday in New York before Atlanta (58-45) plated a pair in the ninth to win 2-1.
Mike Minor held the Cardinals to a lone run over seven in Friday's series-opening 4-1 win, and without Hudson, the Braves may be relying on the left-hander and Teheran to front their rotation.
"With Huddy going down, that was our ace," Minor said. "That was our best guy. We just need everybody else to step it up a little bit."
The Cardinals have the best record in baseball through 100 games, but they haven't won a road series since mid-June and are in danger of dropping another one.
St. Louis went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position, just the ninth time all year it's failed to get a hit in such situations. The Cardinals still lead the league in that category this season (.338) and this month (.353), but the Braves (.325) - who went 3 for 7 on Friday - have been the NL's next-best team in July.
Neither Kelly nor Teheran have faced their respective opponent previously.