Pirates get another shot at Cardinals starting pitcher Kelly

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In Game 1 of the National League Division Series, the Pirates faced a pitcher whose performance prohibited baserunners. In Game 2, the opposing starter let the Pirates fly around the bases in the early innings.

The opposing Game 3 starter has fallen somewhere in between when facing the Pirates this season. Right-hander Joe Kelly, who takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals today at PNC Park, kept runs off the board against the Pirates but had to strand runners on the bases to do so.

Kelly started three games against the Pirates after the Cardinals added him to the rotation July 6. He pitched six innings in each outing and allowed either zero or one run. In 18 innings, though, the Pirates worked nine walks and accumulated 15 hits.

"We felt like we could get on against anybody," said Jordy Mercer, who is 1 for 5 with a walk against Kelly. "It's just that timely hit that you always need to score some runs."

Scouting report

  • Game:

    Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 4:30 p.m., PNC Park.

  • TV, Radio:

    TBS, KDKA-FM (93.7).

  • Probable starters:

    LHP Francisco Liriano (1-0, 1.29 ERA postseason) vs. RHP Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 ERA regular season).

  • Key matchup:

    The Pirates vs. Kelly's consistency. In 15 starts since joining the rotation July 6 (technically 14 because Kelly relieved Jake Westbrook after a one-inning farewell appearance), Kelly has a a 2.18 ERA. That includes three starts against the Pirates, each of them six innings, where he allowed a total of two runs on 15 hits.

  • Hidden stat:

    Kelly had a 2.07 ERA on the road in 19 games, seven of them starts, this season.

Kelly will oppose Francisco Liriano, whose start Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds was a snapshot of his dominance this season at PNC Park. The winner today takes a 2-1 lead in the NLDS heading into Game 4 Monday.

Leaving runners on base has been a specialty of Kelly's. He stranded 82.4 percent of runners this season, almost 10 percent more than his rookie year in 2012. Despite making 22 appearances in relief, Kelly's strand rate is almost identical: 83.3 percent as a reliever, 82 percent as a starter.

"The games that we won in the playoffs so far, in the wild-card game and Game 2, we got that timely, clutch hit that's brought in some runs," Mercer said. "That's what we're looking for."

Three home runs, two from Russell Martin, powered the Pirates to a win against the Reds Tuesday. They could not produce much of anything against Adam Wainwright in Game 1 of this series. A Pedro Alvarez home run and some extra-base hits helped the Pirates score against Lance Lynn in Game 2.

Kelly, who finished the regular season with a 2.69 ERA in 124 innings, won the three games he started against the Pirates.

"Unfamiliarity first, and then execution of pitches second," manager Clint Hurdle said of Kelly's success against his team. "Similar to what [Gerrit] Cole was able to do the other day against St. Louis. You haven't seen a guy, and he pitches a good game and mixes in the breaking ball with a good live fastball that he can work up in the zone."

Kelly's four-seam fastball flirts with triple digits on the radar gun. He complements it with a two-seamer and a slider. He will throw a changeup to left-handers and occasionally try to surprise batters with a curveball, but does so infrequently enough that hitters say they can rule it out.

"Gosh, his fastball's lively, kind of comes with the three-quarter [delivery]," said Marlon Byrd, who platooned against left-handers with the New York Mets and did not face Kelly until joining the Pirates. "Fastball has a little bit of movement as far as tail-side. Anybody throwing 96 [mph] is tough and he also spots his stuff."

Against the Pirates Sept. 6, Kelly threw eight changeups, 10 curves and 83 percent of his 105 pitches were fastballs or sliders. But facing the Pirates in a start Aug. 1, Kelly threw only six sliders, and he threw only six curves in his Sept. 1 start against them.

"He'll keep you off balance, he'll throw any pitch for strikes," Mercer said. "You just got to take advantage of the mistakes."

Asked about his success in PNC Park -- where he has a career 2.84 ERA in four games, three of them starts -- Kelly said he took advantage of the opposing lineup.

"I like pitching here," he said. "I take the ball and I go with it. I just try to attack the hitters here. These guys are ultra-aggressive."

Kelly, 25, in his second major league season, represents another example of the Cardinals placing faith in young pitchers, even in the playoffs. Trevor Rosenthal, a 23-year-old right-hander, is their new closer and Michael Wacha, a 22-year-old rookie, is scheduled to start Game 4.

Kelly appeared in seven playoff games in the 2012 NLDS and NLCS, striking out five and walking four in 72/3 innings.

"It's going to be fun," Kelly said. "That's what playoff baseball is about, you dream about it as a little kid. It is going to be a great time. The atmosphere is going to be electric, obviously, and I think our side is looking forward to it. And their side is obviously looking forward to it."

The Pirates hit for a higher average and on-base percentage at home, a small advantage against Kelly, but their power numbers are better on the road. They also had less success against right-handed starters this year, hitting .241 with a .310 on-base percentage, than left-handers, who allowed a .262 average and a .327 on-base percentage to the Pirates.

"It doesn't change in any way different than I pitch here than at home," Kelly said. "I'm going to try to go after these guys and get as many quick outs as I can."


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. Jenn Menendez contributed to this report. First Published October 6, 2013 4:00 AM


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