Kelly excited for starting opportunity

Kelly excited for starting opportunity

JUPITER, Fla. -- Last year, Joe Kelly found himself summoned into manager Mike Matheny's office to find out that he had fallen short of Shelby Miller in his pursuit of a rotation spot. This year, he took a call from Matheny informing him otherwise.

Shortly after leaving the Cardinals' clubhouse on a day when he pitched five no-hit innings, Kelly learned on Sunday of the Cardinals' decision to employ him as a starter. It was welcome news to the right-hander, who was prepared to pitch in the bullpen, if need be, but clearly had a preference to start.

"I'm excited to be a starter," Kelly said. "I'm going to get mentally prepared to start, since I know what my role is going to be. I'll get mentally focused for the beginning of the season. Like I said [Sunday], the guys that start the season [in the rotation] are rarely the same guys that end the season [because of] injuries or not pitching well. I'm going to go out there and have to perform every single start."

Kelly will make his regular-season debut against the Pirates on April 5. In advance of that, the Cardinals will start him in their exhibition game in Memphis on Friday. The club has not yet announced who will oppose Kelly in that game.

With a strong start on Friday, Kelly can finish the spring on a high note. Over his last two outings (10 1/3 innings), he has allowed three runs on six hits and four walks while striking out eight. He continues to also refine a curveball that he believes will be a featured pitch in his repertoire.

"It's going to be big. It's going to be real big," Kelly said. "It's going to be a lot better for me than going out there and having two pretty good pitches. When you can throw three at any time, that can be huge."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.