Kelly, Cards back at work Friday vs. Chicago Cubs

News-DemocratApril 10, 2014 

— Joe Kelly and Jeff Samardzija will lock horns at 7:15 p.m. Friday when the St. Louis Cardinals face their longtime rivals, the Chicago Cubs, in the opener of a three-game series.

Kelly (1-0, 1.69 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the Cardinals, who won two of three from the Cincinnati Reds in their home-opening series. Kelly walked four and struck out four in 5 1/3 innings in his first start Saturday, defeating Pittsburgh 6-1.

Kelly said he hopes to improve on "everything."

"I walked too many hitters," he said. "So hopefully, I can get better out there and just continue to pitch and battle."

Kelly is 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA in seven career games against Chicago, four of them starts.

"It's a fun series," Kelly said. "The Cardinals-Cubs rivalry is awesome. To have it start out here is even better. I'm definitely looking forward to it and hopefully we'll have a lot of people out here."

Kelly will have his hands full against Samardzija (0-1, 1.29 ERA), the Cubs' talented right-hander. But Chicago (3-6), like the Cardinals, has struggled to score runs. It has scored 33 runs, just four more than the Cardinals (5-4), who are batting a scant .215 --their lowest average after nine games since 1914.

Samardzija is 4-3 with a 4.47 ERA in 18 games, including seven starts, against St. Louis, with 30 walks in 54 1/3 innings.

Kelly said he would receive a refresher course on the Cubs, expected to finish last in the National League Central. Chicago, however, basically has many of its same players from last year, with the exception of hot-hitting center fielder Emilio Bonifacio (.452, seven stolen bases) and third baseman Mike Olt (.136).

Chicago also has a new manager in Rick Renteria.

"I'll have to come watch some video," Kelly said. "I know they're playing pretty good baseball over there, and with Samardzija, that guy's one of the best pitchers. It's going to be a fun game."

For the Cardinals, the game begins a grind-it-out stretch of 26 in a row without a day off. St. Louis' day off Thursday was its last until May 8.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Kelly has made "huge strides" in the last couple of seasons. Kelly was given a spot in the starting rotation after what was billed as competition with Carlos Martinez, who is the eighth-inning setup man.

"He's found that rhythm to where he knows he has the stuff to get a strikeout, but he's also capable of getting a quick out," Matheny said of Kelly. "And those quick outs keep you in the game a little longer. It comes down to trusting your defense and trusting your stuff. He's improving."

The pitching matchups for the final two games of the series are: Adam Wainwright (1-1, 1.29 ERA) vs. Carlos Villaneuva (1-2, 4.26 ERA), 1:15 p.m. Saturday; and Michael Wacha (1-0, 0.71 ERA) vs. former Cardinal Edwin Jackson (0-0, 6.30 ERA), 1:15 p.m. Sunday.

All three games in the series will televised on Fox Sports Midwest and broadcast on KMOX-AM 1120.

The Cardinals, despite their paltry team average, have a few hot hitters:

* All-Star catcher Yadier Molina is batting .286 and already has three home runs and seven RBIs in 35 at-bats.

* First baseman Matt Adams is hitting .364, although he still is seeking his first home run.

* Second baseman Kolten Wong checks in at .276 and reached base six consecutive times against the Reds.

* Third baseman Matt Carpenter, is batting .281 and leads the club with a .425 on-base percentage.

On the flip side, right fielder Allen Craig (.097) and shortstop Jhonny Peralta (.069) are more than 100 points below the Mendoza Line. Peralta is 0-for-8 on the homestand and 0-for-11 overall. Craig didn't play Wednesday and is 1-for-8 with one RBI on the homestand as he struggles to find traction.

"Ideally, we'd all like to get off to a fast start and be on all cylinders going forward," Craig said. "But sometimes it doesn't work out like that."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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