- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Joe Kelly hit 98 miles per hour on the radar gun Saturday. Nobody wanted to talk about that.
He also became the first Cardinals starter to pitch into the sixth inning this spring, an important development for a guy competing to win the fifth starter’s job . But even that became kind of a subplot to his day.
And why was that, you ask? Because Joe Kelly did something pitchers aren’t supposed to do. Not in spring training, anyway. And not in April, May, June, July, August or September, either, for that matter.
He had himself a cool little 3-for-3 game at the plate Saturday, in a 6-2 win over the Braves. And according to the Cardinals, that made him the first pitcher on any team to get three hits in a spring training game in four years -- since Chris Volstad had one for the Marlins on March 30, 2010.
It also gave him more hits this spring, just in one day, than a group of hitting luminaries that included Josh Willingham (1-for-20), Corey Hart (2-for-21) and Jason Kubel (2-for-21). Just to name a few.
“That,” Kelly said afterward, “was pretty fun.”
Over the past 25 seasons, just seven Cardinals pitchers have gotten three hits in a regular-season game. And the only one of those seven who is active is Adam Wainwright, who owns three of them (two just last year).
Coincidentally enough (or not), it’s Wainwright who has challenged his fellow pitchers this spring to improve their hitting, after a season in which they finished 11th in the league (among pitching staffs) in batting average (.126), and came within one whiff of tying for the league lead in strikeouts.
So they’ve been working diligently with assistant hitting coach Mike Aldrete this spring on shortening their strokes. And as Kelly proved Saturday, he’s been paying excellent attention.
“We’ve all kind of been working on short swings, and hitting the ball over the second baseman’s head, for the past two weeks,” Kelly said. “Just something we’re all trying to take pride in. I mean, last year, you heard those numbers. We didn’t bunt. We didn’t hit. We were second to last in almost everything. That’s something that Waino wanted us to all take pride in, in actually trying to help win ball games for yourself.”
Asked Saturday what he’d say to Wainwright when he saw him Sunday morning, Kelly smiled and replied: “I won’t say anything. I’ll see if he says something to me. I’m not going to go boasting. ... And if he asks me, I’ll give all the credit to Mike Aldrete.”
Kelly admitted he did win a little “Monopoly money” last season in a friendly wager with fellow pitcher Shelby Miller over who would get the most hits. And while he revealed that, unfortunately for him, the pitching staff has no hitting wagers going yet this year, he also was pretty sure “there probably will be.”
Those three-hit spring training games can provide ideal opportunities for trash-talking. But Kelly said he had no plans to do any of that -- unless one of his fellow teammates just, by some miracle, might happen to mention it.
“They’ll look up the stats and say something, I’m sure,” he deadpanned.
So he thinks it might just come up?
Possibly because someone like, well, us might write about it?
Well, no more maybes about it. If a pitcher gets three hits in a spring training game, we’ll do our part and make sure the word gets out. So the trash-talking can begin in 3 ... 2 ... 1.