During a prolonged period in which he was rarely used, Joe Kelly found a way to stay sharp. Then he showed the St. Louis Cardinals he's ready for a spot in the rotation.
"Yeah, I think I'd be able to handle that workload,'' Kelly said after working five scoreless innings once rookie Tyler Lyons was yanked early in a 6-4 loss to the Texas Rangers on Friday night. "The body feels good, the arm feels good.
"It's not like I'm getting sore the next day or anything,'' he said. "I'm ready for whenever they call me.''
The 25-year-old Kelly made 16 starts as a rookie last year after replacing injured Jaime Garcia and was 5-7 with a 3.53 ERA. He allowed an earned run in 5 2-3 innings in a spot start June 5, taking the loss against Arizona, but before Friday had worked just 2 2-3 innings since then.
The next time out, Kelly could have Lyons' spot.
"Joe was great,'' manager Mike Matheny said. "He's done a great job staying mentally prepared and physically ready. He took advantage of his opportunity, and that's all we ask all of our guys to do.''
Nelson Cruz snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single through a drawn-in infield in the opener of a series between 2011 World Series opponents.
Derek Holland was strong at the end of a seven-inning stint after a shaky start, Neal Cotts (4-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth when Jon Jay tapped out on a full-count pitch and Joe Nathan finished for his 23rd save in 24 chances. All of Cotts' decisions have come this month.
Left fielder David Murphy robbed Carlos Beltran of an extra-base hit and saved a run with a running catch at the wall in left-center to end it.
Allen Craig had two hits and two RBIs, plus he made a handful of outstanding plays at first base for the Cardinals.
The opener of the three-game series drew a sellout of 45,228 to Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals closed out the `11 Series with wild wins in Games 6 and 7.
This game had some of the drama that made that series one of the best in recent memory.
Trevor Rosenthal (1-1) struck out two in a perfect eighth but gave up two hits, botched a sacrifice attempt for an error and threw a wild pitch to the backstop in the ninth.
Both managers insisted the matchup between 2011 World Series opponents was just another series, with Matheny noting both rosters have changed a lot and the Rangers' Ron Washington saying he's been over the gut-wrenching feeling left by those two final losses in St. Louis since the start of spring training in 2012.
Holland struck out the side in the seventh and retired the final 12 in order. Holland allowed three doubles and a walk to the first four hitters in the Cardinals' three-run first but gave up few hard-hit balls thereafter.
Andrus was in a 2-for-25 slump before his two-run single in the second chased Lyons, who lasted 1 2-3 innings. A.J. Pierzynski and Mitch Moreland opened the innings with doubles for a run and Nelson Cruz greeted Kelly with an RBI single to cap a four-run rally that put the Rangers up 4-3.
After winning his first two career starts to boost a rotation hit hard by injuries, Lyons is 0-3 with an 8.19 ERA in four outings. A two-out walk to Holland that fueled the Rangers' rally hurt the most.
"That's things that aren't going to help you win,'' Lyons said. "So doing that, yeah, obviously it's real frustrating.''
What happens next, Lyons noted, is "not my call.'' Matheny said the Cardinals could "possibly'' make a more immediate move to add relief help, too.
"I'll just get ready and prepare like I would no matter how the game went tonight,'' Lyons said. "We'll see where it goes from here.''
The Cardinals jumped on Holland in the first with three doubles and a walk the first four at-bats with Beltran driving in a run and Craig getting two RBIs. Pete Kozma doubled to open the second, advanced on the first of Kelly's two sacrifice bunts, and scored on a passed ball.