ST. LOUIS — At a time when many starting pitchers are becoming fatigued, Joe Kelly is hitting his stride.
Kelly improved to 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star on Tuesday as the St. Louis Cardinals defeated Cincinnati 6-1 and extended their first-place lead in the NL Central to 1 1/2 games over Pittsburgh.
Kelly (6-3) allowed one run (earned) on eight hits in six innings, walked three and struck out one, helping the Cardinals improve to 5-1 on their seven-game homestand.
"Everybody's a little banged up --from position players to pitchers --throughout everyone's roster," Kelly said. "(But) my body feels good and my arm feels good. Last year at this point, my arm felt pretty good, too. We'll just see where it goes from here."
Kelly's only big mistake was allowing Shin Soo-Choo's bases-empty homer on a changeup in the fifth that cut the Cardinals' lead to 2-1. It was just the ninth homer allowed by Kelly in 89 2/3 innings.
And although it would seem Kelly was fighting himself a bit considering he allowed eight hits, it was quite the contrary.
"(My stuff) was a little bit better," Kelly said, comparing it to his last outing Thursday against the Atlanta Braves. "It's not where I like it to be, but it's getting there. Everything feels better. My changeup felt a lot better, my break on my pitches felt better. Now it's just tuning them all together again."
Kelly stranded eight runners in his six innings --two in the first, two in the second, two in the fourth and two in the fifth.
"These guys got a lot of hits," Kelly said. "I just tried to bear down and leave those guys out there as best I could. I made pitches when I had to and I felt good about that. It was a big team win. I enjoyed that."
So did manager Mike Matheny.
"Joe did a great job," Matheny said. "He had good life again. He just keeps making good starts for us. He's doing a great job.
"It was never a real bad grind. He seemed to have things under control for the most part. He did a nice job once he did get guys on base. He went in and out of having a real good feel for the strike zone, but it's just hard to complain with what he did today."
Offensively, the Cardinals again spread the wealth.
Matt Holliday had an RBI for the seventh consecutive game, Matt Carpenter scored his 100th run of the season and the Cardinals recorded at least one double for the 18th straight game.
"I try to take it one game at a time," Holliday said. "To win against the Reds tonight was good. We'll try to come back and do it again tomorrow. That's how I look at it."
Holliday said the Cardinals are playing like they're capable.
"You're going to do through stretches during the season when you're having trouble scoring runs. It's a long season," he said. "(Tonight) was the team we are, but there's going to be periods where you have trouble scoring runs and there's going to be periods where your pitching is giving up runs early in the game that's making it hard for you."
Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina had two hits for the Cardinals. Beltran said the Cardinals are doing the little things it takes to win --such as when he advanced to second on Holliday's long fly to center that led to a sixth-inning run.
"Right now, every game is valuable for us," Beltran said. "We have to go out there and take advantage of the situations the game presents. We have to be smart, and I think we're doing that. I don't think we're trying to do anything different. Right now, we're playing good baseball."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.