Earlier this year — for the only time this year — I live-blogged a Dodger game. Some of you might remember, not that you should, but one of the things that stuck out for me was the appearance of Joe Kelly.
When he entered that May 25 game, Kelly had an ERA of 7.36 and hadn’t pitched in a week, but he was called into service when Cardinals starting pitcher John Gast had to leave with an injury after having faced only six batters.
Facing the Dodgers with none out and one runner on base in the bottom of the second inning, Kelly then proceeded to …
— strike out the next three Dodgers.
— allow a double to Nick Punto, hit Mark Ellis with a pitch and surrender an RBI single to Adrian Gonzalez.
— retire the next four Dodgers.
— allow hits to Dee Gordon (ending an 0-for-25 slump) and Punto in the fourth inning before escaping that jam.
— give up a leadoff homer to Gonzalez and a walk to Matt Kemp to start the bottom of the fifth.
— head for the showers.
Kelly pitched three innings, allowed seven baserunners and struck out six. His wild ride lasted 62 pitches, and while he looked like a lit match in a gastank half the time, he looked unhittable the other half. (From my liveblog: “Kelly has an ERA over 7 but he throws fire. Nothing below 95 mph.”)
Of course, 50-50 effectiveness won’t get it done, but Kelly would improve in 2013. After a stretch in which he appeared in 10 consecutive Cardinal losses, Kelly moved into the starting rotation for good in July — and thrived. His ERA from July 1 on was 2.18, including a 5 1/3-inning winning outing against the Dodgers on August 6 in which he allowed one run. Most recently, Kelly went another 5 1/3 innings in the National League Division Series against the Pirates, allowing two earned runs and picking up a no-decision.
The caveat for Kelly is that he succeeded in the second half of 2013 almost despite himself: 49 strikeouts against 117 baserunners in 86 1/3 innings. Only once did he pitch more than six innings, leaving matters for the St. Louis bullpen to wrap up.
Those six strikeouts in three innings of relief against the Dodgers? He still hasn’t had more strikeouts in a game in his career.
That’s the pitcher who will face Zack Greinke in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday. Kelly might not be the better hurler on paper, but he could easily keep things interesting.