By Kevin Reynolds, www.stlcardsnstuff.com
Joe Kelly tried to explain it to Stephen Strasburg while playing golf a few weeks ago — how the Cardinals’ have “a good problem to have” with all the “young studs” in competition for a rotation spot.
Strasburg was amazed, not only at what Kelly had done as a starter — both in the second half of the season and in the postseason — but by the fact that Joe may not even make the 2014 rotation out of camp.
“Wow, that’s crazy,” Strasburg reportedly said (via Kelly), “I figured that with you pitching well, you would know where you would be at.”
But with at least seven pitchers vying for five starting slots, it’s fair to say that no one beyond staff ace Adam Wainwright knows where he’ll pitch.
“I’m just gonna’ go out there and pitch as best as I can and see what happens,” Kelly said. “It’s not up to any of the players. Just go out there and perform and see what happens.”
That doesn’t mean Kelly’s not aiming high, though.
“I’m not gonna’ cut myself short. I’m gonna’ go out there and do my best — and hopefully take Waino’s spot.”
Joe targeted Adam Wainwright in jest, but that doesn’t mean he’s not feeling good about his chances heading into camp. In fact, Kelly said his success last year absolutely taught him something.
“That I could be pretty good,” he said. “It just gives you confidence, knowing that once you’ve done something it’s not a fluke and you can go out there and do it again. That’s what I had in that string of good outings that I had. I just carried some confidence and some swagger out there and knew I was better than my opponent. [I] just try to go out there and try to dominate him as best I can.”
It also taught him that where a pitcher starts the season may not be where he finishes it. In Kelly’s case, he’s become used to starting the season in the bullpen only to rescue the rotation in the second half.
“It’s very rare to see any team in Major League Baseball with the same five guys end up being the same five guys at the end of the year.”
In Kelly’s case, that’s meant an opportunity to show what he can do in high-leverage games — games in a playoff race, the postseason, and even the World Series. He’s excelled nearly every time out, and yet the opportunity to start the season in the rotation rather than jump on mid-way through has eluded him.
“It’s not like I’m gonna’ say I’ve earned anything,” said Kelly. “I’m gonna go out there and just keep pitching and do what I can and see what kind of decision they’re gonna’ make.”
– Kelly, interestingly enough, said he is so against dwelling on the past that he didn’t even remember what he did in the World Series. “I had to go back and watch it with my family”
– Kelly said he gets the “where are you guys finding these guys?” and “how are you guys doing this?” questions regarding the young talent in the Cards’ system from players with other organizations all the time. He attributes it to smart personnel in the Cardinals’ draft and development department as well as a little bit of luck. “Something we have here is special.”