St. Louis Cardinals Career (2012-2014)

2012 Season – MLB Debut

On June 8, 2012, one day before his 24th birthday, it was announced that Joe Kelly would be making his MLB debut on June 10 against the Cleveland Indians at Busch Stadium. He would be starting in place of injured Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

It was a Sunday afternoon in front of a sell-out crowd when Kelly faced off against Ubaldo Jimenez and the Indians. The first batter of the game was Cleveland right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who flied out to left fielder Allen Craig on 6 pitches.

The next two batters reached base via singles to center field. Facing the switch-hitting Carlos Santana, Kelly had runners at first and third with one out. He struck out Santana on three pitches for his first career strikeout. The next batter lined out to third base and the threat was over.

Joe allowed his first career MLB earned run in the third inning of the ballgame when Choo scored on a Santana sacrifice fly after a leadoff double.

Ultimately, Kelly tossed 5+ innings, allowing one run on a sacrifice fly in the third inning. He exited in the sixth inning after allowing a single to Michael Brantley.


Victor Marte came in to relieve Kelly in the 6th inning, but the next pitcher in line for the game was an old teammate.

Marc Rzepczyski was a starter for Kelly’s college team at UCR, while Joe served as the closer. On the experience:

“It was so awkward,” said Kelly. “Zep said, ‘Dude, I’m so used to me starting and you coming in to close the game.’ It was pretty awesome. And pretty weird.”

Regarding his own performance on the day, Kelly had this to say:

“I felt like it was another start until that second inning,” he said. “Actually I didn’t think I was going to sleep last night. I thought I was going to have to take a sleeping pill or something. But I got great sleep.”

“I would have liked to go a little longer (in the game) to help everybody out, but overall I felt like it was pretty decent.”

Joe’s manager shared the sentiment:

“He did a very nice job, all things considered,” Matheny said. “He looked like he stayed with his game plan the whole time and never got away from it.”

Joe Kelly’s final line from his MLB debut: 5 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO; Pit 79, Str 51.

He did not factor in the decision, but his team would eventually fall 4-1 to Cleveland.

Remainder of the MLB Season

Joe remained in the big leagues and in the rotation for his next 11 starts going 3-5 with a 3.41 ERA. He picked up his first MLB win on June 22 on the road against the Royals. He recorded his first big league hit, an RBI infield single, on June 25 as a pinch hitter. The hit proved to be a game winner.

On August 19, Kelly made his first big league relief appearance in the 12th inning of a 19 inning game. He pitched 5.2 innings and allowed 1 run in an eventual Cardinals loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Spending the rest of the season splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen, he finished his rookie campaign appearing in 24 games — 16 starts — with a 5-7 record and 3.53 ERA in 107 innings pitched. He was added to the Cardinals playoff roster for the 2012 postseason. 

2012 Postseason

During his first taste of postseason action, Joe Kelly pitched in relief for the Cardinals.

He entered his first game on October 8, 2012 – with a 7-3 lead over the Washington Nationals, Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny called on Kelly to pitch the top of the sixth inning.

The first batter faced was Nats’ second baseman Danny Espinoza, whom he promptly got to fly out to centerfield on one pitch for the first out of the inning.

Next up was catcher, Kurt Suzuki, who grounded out to shortstop on a 1-0 pitch.

Standing in the way of Joe’s perfect first postseason inning was pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi. Lombardozzi worked the count to 2-2 before lining out to shortstop Pete Kozma for a three up, three down inning.

All told for the National League Division Series, Kelly appeared in 3 games while allowing no runs in the 5 game series against the Nationals.

The Cardinals advanced to the National League Championship Series but lost to the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants in 7 games. Joe appeared in 4 games and allowed 2 runs in the NLCS.

In his first taste of postseason action, Kelly pitched exclusively in relief, appearing in 7 games and allowing 2 runs in 7.2 innings pitched, good for a 2.50 ERA.

2013 Season

Joe Kelly made the Cardinals bullpen out of spring training in 2013 before being inserted into the starting rotation by midseason. He made 15 starts in 37 appearances while registering a 10-5 record with a 2.69 ERA in 124 innings pitched in his first full season in the big leagues. His ERA was good for 9th among all MLB pitchers with 100+ innings pitched.

He recorded a 9-3 record and 2.28 ERA as a starter, and 1-2 record with a 3.65 ERA out of the bullpen.

Between July 12 and September 6, Kelly won 5 consecutive starts and eight straight decisions. He registered a season-high 19.2 scoreless innings streak during that time.

With the bat, Kelly was 4-29 on the season (.138 BA) with 2 RBI.

2013 Postseason

In the 2013 postseason, Joe Kelly pitched exclusively as a starter for the Cardinals. In 4 games, he allowed 10 earned runs in 21.2 innings pitched (4.25 ERA) across the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series.

He started game 3 of the National League Division Series for the Cardinals against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. In his start, Kelly allowed 2 earned runs on 5 hits in 5.1 IP in an eventual 3-5 loss. However, the Cardinals were able to dispatch the Pirates 3 games to 2 and advance to the National League Championship Series.

Kelly was tabbed to start game 1 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers and their ace Zack Greinke. Kelly matched Greinke pitch for pitch in the early going, with both pitchers allowing 2 runs in the third inning. All told, Joe pitched 6 innings and allowed 2 runs on 6 hits. The game stayed tied 2-2 until 13th inning when the Cardinals walked off on a Carlos Beltran RBI single.

NLCS Game 5 was a rematch of Kelly and Greinke, with the Dodgers eventually winning 6-4. The Cardinals defeated the Dodgers in 6 games and advanced to the World Series.

After securing the National League title, the Cardinals faced off against the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Joe Kelly started game 3 against his future club where he allowed 2 runs on 2 hits in 5.1 innings while striking out 6. It was his first and only  World Series start.

The Red Sox took the series 4 games to 2 and were crowned the World Champions of 2013 at Busch Stadium.

2014 Season – Traded

Kelly opened the 2014 season in the Cardinals rotation, allowing only 1 earned run in his first 3 games started before straining his left hamstring while attempting to bunt for a single. He missed 78 games recovering from the strain.

After returning from the disabled list, Joe made 4 starts before being traded along with Allen Craig to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher John Lackey and minor leaguer Corey Littrell.

His first start with Boston came six days after he was traded. The start was against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Against his old club, he pitched 7 innings and allowed only 1 run.

He finished the 2014 season with a 9-8 record and a 4.20 ERA across 17 starts with St. Louis and Boston.