A month ago, Joe Kelly helped the St. Louis Cardinals avoid being swept in a five-game series at Pittsburgh.
Facing a more potent Pirates lineup with newly acquired slugger Justin Morneau on Sunday, Kelly looks to continue his recent success as a starter and again help the Cardinals avoid being swept in Pittsburgh for the first time in almost five years.
Pittsburgh (79-56) outscored St. Louis 22-7 to win four straight before Kelly (6-3, 2.91 ERA) allowed three hits in six innings of the 13-0 victory Aug. 1 to help the visitors avoid the five-game sweep.
The Pirates have outscored the Cardinals (78-57) 12-1 through two this weekend to move one game ahead in the NL Central race. A.J. Burnett threw seven strong innings and Neil Walker had three hits as Pittsburgh moved within three victories of its first winning season since 1992 with Saturday's 7-1 victory."It's a great feat," Burnett said. "It's been a long time, but our goals have been higher than that."
Pittsburgh, however, must get by Kelly in order to sweep its first home series from the Cardinals since Sept. 12-14, 2008.
Kelly is 6-0 with a 2.24 ERA in nine starts since joining the rotation July 6, and he's allowed three runs on two homers over 18 innings while winning three straight outings overall. The right-hander gave up a solo shot in the fifth inning and lasted one more frame during Tuesday's 6-1 victory over Cincinnati.
"He just keeps making good starts for us," manager Mike Matheny said.
Morneau, who played only for Minnesota since breaking in with the Twins in 2003, hit .259 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs in 127 games this season. He arrived at PNC Park in the middle of Saturday's game, but did not play."Everybody knows we got better with the addition of Justin," catcher Russell Martin said. "He's an ex-MVP. He knows what he's doing out there. He's going to give you a productive at-bat and he lengthens the middle of the order."
Allen Craig had two of the six hits Saturday for the Cardinals, who have totaled one run and 15 hits during a three-game slide that followed a stretch of nine wins in 11 contests."I like what our offense has done over the majority of the season," Matheny said. "You don't want to take a couple of games and start making conclusions. We're just going to keep going about it."
Catcher Yadier Molina ranks among the major league leaders with .328 average, but is 2 for 15 in his last four games overall and 0 for 15 in his last five at Pittsburgh.
Kris Johnson is slated to make his first career start for the Pirates in the finale. In his major league debut out of the bullpen, the left-hander allowed two runs and struck out five while pitching the 11th through the 16th innings of a 4-2 loss to Arizona on Aug. 18.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|August 22, 2013||Jake Westbrook||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|August 15, 2013||Tony Cruz||15-Day DL||Stress fracture, left forearm|
|August 11, 2013||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Right foot contusion|
|August 07, 2013||Shelby Miller||Day-to-Day||Right elbow contusion|
|July 31, 2013||Shane Robinson||15-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
|July 31, 2013||Yadier Molina||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|August 27, 2013||Kyle McPherson||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|August 19, 2013||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Right hand contusion|
|August 19, 2013||Starling Marte||Day-to-Day||Right hand contusion|
|August 11, 2013||Starling Marte||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hand|
|July 28, 2013||Travis Snider||15-Day DL||Left big toe discomfort|
|July 28, 2013||Michael McKenry||60-Day DL||Left knee surgery - out for season|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Joe Kelly began the season in the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen with an electric fastball and an identity crisis.
Consider the crisis solved.
At the moment, Kelly has become The Stopper.
The right-hander allowed four hits over six solid innings to win his fourth straight start and the Cardinals moved back into a tie for first place in the NL Central with a 7-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
Kelly (7-3) walked two and struck out five while remaining unbeaten since being moved to the starting rotation full-time in July.
"He's kind of figured himself out," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "Early in the season, he was confused. He thought he should be a strikeout guy at 97 (mph), but with the movement on his fastball he'd be crazy not to use that movement to try to command the bottom of the zone and get ground balls, too."
Kelly received plenty of help from an offense that snapped out of a three-game funk by tagging Pittsburgh spot starter Kris Johnson (0-2).
Matt Holliday and David Freese drove in two runs apiece while Matt Carpenter , Allen Craig , Yadier Molina and Shane Robinson added two hits each for St. Louis.
The Cardinals managed all of one run over the first 18 innings of the series, losses that came at the hands of proven veterans Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett. On Sunday they faced a 28-year-old making his first major league start who was nearly out of baseball two years ago.
"For us to come back out in a day game after scoring one run the first two nights was really big," Freese said. "It finally gave us a little momentum."
Pittsburgh's push for an NL Central title could go down to the wire. The Pirates reclaimed first place with a 7-1 victory Saturday night but St. Louis responded by knocking around Johnson, who took the hill after Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle decided to give struggling All-Star Jeff Locke a much-needed breather.
Locke is 1-2 with a 6.88 ERA in the second half, and Hurdle thought a few days off would allow the left-hander to work on his mechanics and get some rest.
Locke won't pitch again until next weekend at the earliest. If Pittsburgh decides he needs even more time off, it will likely have to look elsewhere for help after the Cardinals took it to Johnson.
Carpenter doubled to open the game and Robinson followed with a walk. Craig and Molina provided consecutive RBI singles, and Jon Jay added a sacrifice fly to stake Kelly to a 3-0 lead before he threw his first pitch.
The advantage grew in the third when Freese doubled to score Craig and Molina and end Johnson's day. Two weeks after limiting Arizona to one run in six innings of relief in his first major league appearance, Johnson gave up five runs on seven hits in two-plus innings.
"These are the kind of situations you want to be put in, I just didn't take advantage of them when I had the chance," Johnson said. "I worked all my life to get here and to fall short today, just going to have to get back on the field, get back on the throwing program and get back to where we were before."
Justin Morneau went 1 for 3 in his debut with the Pirates a day after Pittsburgh acquired the first baseman from Minnesota to bolster the franchise's bid for its first playoff appearance in 21 years.
Kelly has been a pleasant surprise since moving into the rotation. He never let the Pirates in the game, allowing only an RBI single by Marlon Byrd in the sixth.
By then the Cardinals had things well in hand as baseball's tightest division race once again drew even.
"My velocity was a lot better than in my last start, my sinker was really working and I was able to pitch to both sides of the plate," Kelly said.
The Pirates, whose 79 wins are tied for the franchise's high-water mark since 1992, made two bold moves last week in hopes of drawing ahead. They brought in Byrd and catcher John Buck from the New York Mets on Tuesday, then made an even bigger splash Saturday when they convinced Morneau to leave Minnesota after 11 seasons.
Morneau arrived at PNC Park midway through Saturday night's blowout and watched the remainder of the game from the dugout. He got a better view on Sunday, playing first base and batting sixth.
The 2006 AL MVP grounded out in his first plate appearance, walked in his second and then lined a single to right field his third time up. He ended his first game for Pittsburgh with a deep fly to the warning track in the ninth.
NOTES: Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez is dealing with arthritis in his pitching arm. Rodriguez, who has been on the disabled list since July with forearm tightness, is expected to resume his throwing program this week after a visit with Dr. James Andrews revealed no structural damage to the arm. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the team remains hopeful Rodriguez can return in some capacity down the stretch. ... The Cardinals activated C Tony Cruz from the 15-day disabled list even though Cruz hasn't been cleared to swing a bat as he recovers from a broken forearm. Cruz would be used only in an emergency. ... The Pirates begin a three-game series in Milwaukee on Monday. Charlie Morton (6-3, 2.14 ERA) faces Tyler Thornburg (1-0, 1.94). ... St. Louis travels to Cincinnati on Monday to begin a four-game set with the Reds. Adam Wainwright (15-8, 2.96) starts for the Cardinals against Mat Latos (13-5, 3.03). ... The Cardinals sent reliever Michael Blazek to Milwaukee to complete the trade they made Friday for RHP John Axford .