When Joe Kelly pitches, the Cardinals win.
That's how things have gone since St. Louis added Kelly to its rotation on July 6, giving a huge boost to its playoff positioning. The Cardinals hold a one-game National League Central lead over the Pirates heading into Thursday night, when Kelly will take on the Brewers in the finale of a three-game series at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis has won five straight to start its nine-game homestand, and Kelly comes into Thursday having won five consecutive starts. In 11 outings since joining the rotation, he has given up one or zero runs eight times and gone 8-0 with a 2.10 ERA. The Cardinals are 10-1 in those games.
Kelly's latest victory came against the Pirates on Friday, when he gave up eight hits and walked three over six innings, but held Pittsburgh to one run. He has only a 40-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a starter, but has found a way to get the job done.
"He pitched himself out of trouble a couple of times," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after the Pittsburgh game. "I thought he did a real nice job. He's earned that opportunity to work himself through it and he continues to get big outs when he needs to."
Brewers starter Tyler Thornburg hasn't enjoyed Kelly's good fortune.
Thornburg also has split time between the bullpen and rotation this season and also has pitched well as a starter, with a 1.13 ERA in four games. But despite going at least six innings and giving up no more than two runs in each of those outings, Thornburg didn't win any of them.
The 24-year-old righty posted another solid performance on Monday, when he limited the Pirates to two runs on six hits over six innings, with three walks and four strikeouts.
"I wouldn't say I'm more comfortable, it's just what I'm used to," Thornburg said afterward. "Any time, for the past two to three years -- even back into college -- you've been a starter, it's just what you're used to. I'm sure if one day I'm in the bullpen for two or three years, then I'm sure I'll get comfortable with that."
Brewers: Segura to ride out slump
• Shortstop Jean Segura will continue to play as he tries to fight through an extended down period at the plate, according to manager Ron Roenicke, who believes Segura still gives Milwaukee the best chance to win.
Segura went 1-for-4 on Wednesday, giving him a .298 average and .760 OPS. He finished May with marks of .354 and .943. Veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez believes Segura is getting tired and must adjust to the grind of a Major League season.
"I talked to [Segura] a little about it earlier," Ramirez said. "But now that he's struggling, he wants to do more in the cage, more in early BP. But you can't do that. You're going to wear yourself out, especially when it's 95 [degrees] out there. It's all a learning experience for him."
• Outfielder Khris Davis, out with a sore left wrist, could return to the lineup on Thursday.
Cardinals: Youth serving heat
• Kelly is one of three young starters in the Cardinals' rotation, along with Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. The St. Louis bullpen also includes hard-throwing youngsters such as Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez.
"Before you would find one in a staff that was throwing 94 [mph], and now you've got a full bullpen, most of them coming out throwing that hard," Matheny said. "It's definitely changed in that regard. That doesn't necessarily translate into effective pitching, but if you mix enough of these hard throwers in, you're going to find some guys that know how to blend throwing hard with pitching well and they're not fun to face."
• Catcher Yadier Molina and his brother Bengie, the Cardinals' assistant hitting coach, were not at Busch Stadium on Wednesday to attend to what Matheny called a "family personal matter." The brothers did not leave the St. Louis area, according to Matheny, but it was not known if either would return to the team by Thursday.
• After Thursday, the teams will play another three-game series, Sept. 20-22 at Milwaukee.
• Kelly had a 3.57 ERA in three starts against the Brewers last season and has one relief appearance against them in 2013.