June 18, 2014

Grizzlies get Kelley a win in his pro debut

Perhaps overly nervous Wednesday in his first pro start for the Gateway Grizzlies, rookie left-hander Kerry Kelley's first-inning throwing error led to two quick runs for the Southern Illinois Miners.

Once that miscue was out of the way, Kelley settled in and contributed five strong innings to pick up his first victory in a 3-2 win over the Miners at GCS Ballpark.

After giving up a single to Jon Eisen and double to Jay Austin to start the game, Kelley got a grounder back to the mound and had Eisen trapped off third. Instead, Kelley's throw sailed high over the third baseman's head and two runs scored.

"As I get older I don't get too nervous any more," said Grizzlies manager Phil Warren, whose 20-10 club has won five straight overall and seven straight at home. "I was excited to see a fresh face and I knew he was going to throw strikes. But let's be honest, he's left-handed, he's a pitcher, it's going to happen.

"My hat's off to him. He settled down after that and put up some zeroes and away we go."

The Grizzlies signed Kelley on Tuesday and had him on the mound the following day before an afternoon crowd of 3,852.

Kelley rebounded quickly after the shaky start, coaxing a double-play grounder off the bat of Jared McDonald to help escape further trouble in the first.

The Grizzlies got all the offense they would need against Southern Illinois starter Michael Carden (1-2) in the third inning.

Garrett Vail reached on a leadoff double to right and scored on Madison Beaird's RBI single to center. Tommy Richards followed with a two-run homer that left the park over the high fence in left-center.

"I didn't know if it was going to get out or not so I wanted to make sure if it caromed off the wall I'm getting (at least) two," said Richards, who has two homers. "I'm not the kind of guy that hits many homers, so I was kind of running out of the box a little bit."

Kelley allowed just two hits after the first, including four straight shutout innings after the early two-run scare. The former Cal State San Bernardino lefty allowed four hits and two runs, striking out two and walking one.

"That's why we signed him," Warren said of Kelley, 4-7 at Cal State Bernardino this season with a 4.02 ERA. "We didn't know how he'd throw when he started off, but we saw the potential. His history's good and he's something different than what we have.

"It's nice to be able to throw a lefty in there to kind of mix up our rotation a bit."

The Grizzlies got shutdown relief the rest of the way from Luke Westphal (two scoreless innings), Aaron Baker and Richard Barrett.

Baker pitched a scoreless eighth and Barrett worked a scoreless ninth to earn his eighth save in a game that lasted just 2 hours, 19 minutes.

"We had a fresh enough bullpen with Westphal able to be extended," Warren said. "He was on full rest, so we knew we could get two (innings) if he was efficient enough, maybe three out of him, and then get to Barrett and Baker back there."

That plan worked out well for the Grizzlies, who allowed only four hits after the first inning. The pitching was much needed since the Grizzlies had only a pair of singles to show for their final five innings of work.

Warren said the decision to remove Kelley after five innings was as much about the heat as it was pitch count. Kelley had throw only 78 pitches, but was working on an artificial turf field on a 90-degree day.

"He hasn't thrown in a while, it's 100 degrees out on that turf," Warren said. "It as a good point to take him out with some confidence. You could tell he was nervous, it was his first pro game. It was just fun to watch and just see him compete."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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