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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Six-inning Joe Kelly may have been a better idea

For some reason, I cannot get Friday night’s St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 11-inning home loss to the Chicago Cubs out of my mind. Perhaps it is because the game appeared to be very winnable. It seems like far too often at the end of a season, one looks back to missed opportunity games like this as having made a difference.

Many have already expressed their concerns about the contest – primarily with decisions made by third-year manager Mike Matheny surrounding the use of Trevor Rosenthal. They include pitching the closer in a tie game at home, not pinch-hitting Pete Kozma for him with runners in scoring position and extending the right-hander into a second inning of work.

I can understand all of those, especially the frustration of seeing Rosenthal strike out in just his second career at-bat. The effects of heavy workload may take longer to manifest themselves, but may also be real.

However, my sticking point had already occurred, relating to a decision made earlier in the game – specifically in the use of starter Joe Kelly.

Much attention has been given to Kelly’s inability to pitch deep into games. As his 33rd career start evolved on Friday, he seemed in control. If Kelly would ever go seven-plus innings, this might finally be the time.

With the help of two double-play balls, the right-hander had faced the minimum number of Cubs hitters through the first five innings. Yet, while batting in the bottom of the frame, Kelly was struck by a 93 mph Jeff Samardzija fastball. The game was delayed as Kelly was checked out.

Though Kelly remained in the contest, he showed less dominance in the sixth, scattering two Cubs singles. Knowing the 25-year-old had only pitched seven full innings once in his career and that the Cards had a fully-rested pen after Thursday’s day off, it felt to me like it was the best time to end Kelly’s day. At that point, the Cards held a razor-thin 1-0 lead, but Kelly could only win or receive a no-decision.

Sure, it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy to call Kelly a six-inning pitcher and manage him that way. I wonder if Matheny decided this was the night to try to break the mold. At that point, Kelly had thrown just 75 pitches, though 18 of them had occurred in the sixth.

Matheny did send Kelly out for the seventh but as fate would have it, the hurler was not to secure another out. Now, it wasn’t the pitcher’s fault that Kolten Wong committed a fielding error to the first batter, but he did have an impact on the next two batters.

After a pair of singles tied the score, a pitching change was made. Kelly had thrown 12 more pitches before leaving. The fact the tying run was unearned probably made no one feel better.

Carlos Martinez did escape Kelly’s two-on, no out jam, but used valuable bullets before running into his own trouble in the eighth inning. Two Chicago runs came in after Kevin Siegrist also had to enter the game with runners on base. One run was charged to Martinez and the other to Siegrist as the visitors temporarily took a 3-1 lead.

I cannot prove that Martinez and Siegrist would have performed better starting with clean innings, but my gut tells me at least one of them could easily have. If so, the contest would have played out differently – if only Matheny had not tried to squeeze three more outs from six-inning Joe Kelly.

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12 Responses to “Six-inning Joe Kelly may have been a better idea”

  1. blingboy says:

    Joe was the best thing that happened that game.

    Even though Matheny’s choices in the 10th were not appealing, he made a bad decision. No excuse for not going for the win, either with Kozma or Cruz pinch hitting, the latter staying in at catcher with Molina moving to 1B. Had the PH not been effective, Choate was availible to face the two lefties leading off the Cub’s 11th. Then it would be down to Maness and Butler, but that would be on Mo, the manager has to go with the players he has.

    As to leaving Joe in after the HBP, I’m on the fence. I wasn’t thinking it was a problem at the time, even after he’d given a couple hits in the 6th, so I won’t get into second guessing in hindsight.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    We have one vet starter, in Wainwright, and 4 kids. Kelly is our 3rd best. It would be very helpful if he can build on his success to date and extend out to 7 innings, every now and again. It makes a big difference for the bullpen when starters last 7.

    Today we had a 3 run lead on the Cubs going into the ninth. A perfect opportunity to give a save to Nehsek or Choate, and reduce the load on young Rosenthal. Instead, Matheny had to use Rosenthal for another 25 pitches. Tomorrow night, we are in a tougher spot, Milwaukee, with an overworked closer, whose ERA is above 7. Nice way to set up the road trip for success Mike.

    • blingboy says:

      Milwaukee has been doing something right. Time to knock them down.

      Don’t worry about Rosie getting overused, Jumbo. The plan seems to be to have Mike make the best of things for a short while, when Motte, having flown through a AAA rehab, will arrive on the scene fully effective and able to carry a full workload. For that reason it would be foolish to make any moves aimed at giving Mike another arm to consider using when it matters. If it doesn’t work out that way it will be just bad luck that no one could have predicted, which, I assume, makes it OK.

      • Brian Walton says:

        It feels like Groundhog Day. Your moves to fix the pen consist of promoting Lyons and Freeman as if that is practical.

        • blingboy says:

          I am willing to concede that point.

          Whether doing nothing and hoping it will all work out proves an effective strategy remains to be seen. Having won the last two makes it unlikely anything will be done soon. Let’s see what happens vs the 1st place Brewers, then perhaps revisit the topic.

          By the way, I see Ellis started his rehab assignment. Does anyone know his anticipated return date?

          • Brian Walton says:

            Ellis has up to 20 days for his rehab. It should be much quicker, likely based on how fast he knocks the rust off. Played six innings today, going 1-for-3.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            bling, you do not have to concede about the need to replace Butler. Mo has a variety of ways this could be done. Almarante could be added to the 40 man and tried. Or Fornataro could be tried; he throws a sinker. Or Aardsma, the veteran, though this would cost some money, so they may want to see more out of him first.
            Or, to be bolder, the Cards could do what they did with Maness last year, promote the incumbent minor league pitcher of the year, Zach Petrick, off to a good start at AA.

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