ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' four-man rotation will come to a end Saturday when Joe Kelly steps into the fifth spot for his second start of the season, an afternoon contest against the Miami Marlins.
With three off-days in the last two weeks, the Cardinals were able to stick with just four starters -- Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn -- after rookie Tyler Lyons was optioned back to Triple-A Memphis. But when there was a start to be had, manager Mike Matheny said Kelly would get the call, and the 24-year-old right-hander will remain the fifth option in the rotation indefinitely. Kelly tossed 40-45 pitches in a bullpen session on Wednesday, but other than some minor changes to his lifting and conditioning regimen, he hasn't made many alterations to his routine.
"I'm taking it as a regular day," Kelly said. "Just pitching. Nothing to get too excited about or anything, but I'm excited to get back out there and start again."
Kelly started 16 games as a rookie last year, going 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA, but he has primarily been used as a long reliever this season. When a rainout knocked the rotation off track, Kelly made a spot start June 5, tossing a season-high 80 pitches. He allowed one earned run on four hits and one walk while striking out two in 5 2/3 innings.
While he has only logged one start this season, Kelly has received extended work on short notice in his last two outings, as Lyons and Miller ran into trouble early and were both pulled in the second inning. Kelly tossed 77 pitches in a scoreless five innings on June 21, and then threw 79 with one earned run, three hits and three walks on June 28. With an ability to stretch out for lengthy relief appearances and step in as a starter, Kelly has provided a versatile option out of the St. Louis 'pen.
"I take pride in knowing that I can fit different roles," Kelly said. "Especially if they need me to start again, my pitch count could be up near 100 pitches without being too gassed."
While Matheny hasn't committed to a long-term solution for the fifth spot in the rotation, if he performs well, Kelly could be in line for the job.
"There's always opportunity, but I'm just going to go out there and just compete my butt off," Kelly said. "Whatever happens, happens, and hopefully I'll come out on top [Saturday]."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.