ST. LOUIS — Just three years after being drafted, pitcher Joe Kelly got his feet wet at the big-league level and is ready for more.
Kelly got a no-decision in the St. Louis Cardinals' 4-1 loss to Cleveland on Sunday. The right-hander was generally satisfied, although he cited nerves and a below-average curveball as factors in a performance that lasted five-plus innings.
"It felt like another start," Kelly said. "The first inning, it didn't really hit me. The second inning, it really hit me. A guy got on, and it's like, 'Wow, this is really happening.'
"I didn't have all my stuff working. It was fastball, changeup. I couldn't really throw a curveball for a strike. I tried to battle and give my team a chance to help me out and make some plays. Hopefully, I could pitch as long as I could."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny lifted Kelly after Michael Brantley led off the sixth with a sharp single.
Matheny said Kelly's stuff remained effective, but he instead decided to turn to a rested bullpen for the final four innings.
"Watching him carefully from the beginning, we had a very healthy pen that we could have gone to at any time," Matheny said. "We're not trying to stretch him out to see how far we could get him to go. We wanted to watch him close. ... If we needed to make a move, we were going to do it quick."
Victor Marte, Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs each threw a scoreless inning before Jason Motte allowed Jason Kipnis' three-run homer in the ninth that broke a 1-1 tie.
Kelly, who replaced the injured Jaime Garcia in the rotation, allowed seven hits, walked one and struck out four. He showed a mid-90s fastball, but he induced just four ground-ball outs and was ahead in the count against 14 of 23 batters.
"I would have liked to go longer and help everyone out," said Kelly, who was not ready to exit the game. "It was warm out there. I was trying to get ahead of every hitter. I could have went longer if I got ahead of all the batters."
Kelly said he went over scouting reports on the Indians with pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and catcher Yadier Molina. In the game, he deferred to Molina's experience.
"Basically, my scouting report was just listening to Yadi," Kelly said. "He puts down the finger. It's usually the right pitch.
"I wanted to stick to my strength, which is fastballs down and sinkers to try to get ahead of guys. Whenever he called an off-speed pitch or he wanted to go in, I didn't shake. I was like, 'All right. I'll just listen to what you say. You know the hitters better than I do.'"
Kelly said he doesn't know what happened to his breaking pitch after he made his warmup tosses in the bullpen.
"I think I just tried to do too much out there with the curve," Kelly said. "Maybe I was trying to go for swings and misses instead of throwing it for a strike. But during warmups, I felt good with it and I told Yadi in the second inning, 'I'll get it. Don't worry. I'll get it.'
"But then I just kind of sped everything up and tried to throw my curve too hard instead of just relaxing with it."
Kelly's next start likely will be against Kansas City on Saturday at Busch Stadium, and he's eager to apply what he learned Sunday.
"Now that I've got the first one out of the way, mentally I'm ready to keep going, ready to keep pitching," he said. "I'm a sinkerball pitcher. I just try to get guys to beat it into the ground, especially when there's guys on. Make pitches with your first pitch and with your off-speed and usually you're more successful than not."