Then came Monday night, his successful pinch-hitting (and sprinting to first base) performance against the Marlins and, of course, that incredibly cute interview on the Fox Sports Midwest post-game.
And now the interest in the “adorable mess” that is Joe Kelly is even higher.
Oh, about that “mess” comment — in my haste to share this picture from the post-game Monday night, I didn’t notice that Twitter autocorrected “adorableness” to “adorable mess.”
Proofreading — always good, even on Twitter.
Anyway, Joe was born June 9, 1988, in Anaheim, Calif., meaning he celebrated his 24th birthday by preparing for his first big-league start on June 10. He is 6’1 and 185 pounds.
He played baseball at the University of California-Riverside starting in 2007, where he was a teammate of Marc Rzepczynski. Some number from Joe’s college career, where he was the UC-Riverside career saves leader with 24:
Kelly had a successful freshman season at the University of California-Riverside in 2007, posting a 1.32 ERA and saving six games. However, he was ineffective as a sophomore (9.35 ERA in 17 innings) and erratic as a junior, saving 12 games but posting a 5.65 ERA. Scouts were still impressed enough with him that he was drafted in the third round in 2009, seen as a potential closer.
He pitched for the Batavia Muckdogs in 2009 as a reliever and had a 4.75 ERA in 30 innings.
Joe spent the 2010 in the Quad Cities as a starter, making 26 appearances on a team that also included Shelby Miller. He had a 4.62 ERA in 103 innings, striking out 92 and walking 45. And you can get a good look at him from two years ago here.
Last year, he began the season with Palm Beach of the Florida State League and was impressive with a 2.60 ERA, striking out 62 and walking 34 in 73 innings. He was promoted to Double-A Springfield at mid-season, where he struggled a bit in compiling a 5.01 ERA in 70 innings.
Which brings us to this season, where he did very well at Memphis with a 2.86 ERA in 12 starts before earning the promotion to the Cardinals.
More on Joe from Minor League Ball:
His key pitch is his fastball, clocked as high as 98-100 MPH when used in relief. It is a consistent 91-95 MPH pitch as a starter. The fastball has unusually strong sinking movement; sometimes it moves like a splitter. His secondary pitches are a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. These all have their moments, but none of them are dominant pitches and ultimately he lives and dies with the sinker. His strikeout rates were adequate in the lower minors, but he fanned just 5.60 per nine innings in Triple-A. On the other hand, he showed the best control of his professional life this spring, a major reason for his step forward.
He’s done well with the Cardinals thus far, with a 3.37 ERA with 11 strikeouts and four walks in 21 1/3 innings. He won his first major league game on June 22 against the Royals. And, according to manager Mike Matheny, his most impressive start so far was Wednesday night in Miami:
“It looked like he was pitching more today and not just relying on just stuff,” Matheny said. “It looked like he was thinking. … Joe was locating his pitches, and I think that was probably his best outing.”
Joe also looked really nice in his post-game interview. (You’ll have to endure a look at Mike Matheny to reach Joe’s portion of the video. Yeah, a hardship, I know.)
“That was the most nervous I could be,” Kelly said. “I was like, ‘Man, I might have to come up in a situation where I might have to actually hit.’ … I put it in play and just sprinted as fast as I could … That was not my gameplan at all. I wouldn’t call it an offensive hero. You see our team battling to come back. That’s huge. It’s probably one of the funnest games of baseball I’ve ever been a part of.”
It definitely was a fun game to watch as well, as it was arguably the most impressive win of the season — and Joe’s contribution with the bat was huge.
So here’s to much more success, and more adorableness (or even adorable mess) from Joe throughout this season and beyond.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.