(Atlanta) (AP) – Mike Matheny didn’t want Joe Kelly to feel like his start against the Braves was an audition.
Kelly showed no sign of pressure as he held the Braves scoreless into the seventh inning, possibly earning himself another shot in St. Louis’ rotation.
Kelly threw 6 1-3 scoreless innings before Andrelton Simmons hit a two-run double in the eighth inning that lifted Atlanta past the Cardinals 2-0 Saturday in a matchup of NL division leaders.
The 24-year-old Kelly allowed seven hits and three walks in only his fourth start of the season and first appearance since July 12.
“Very, very impressive,” Matheny said. “It was maybe the best I’ve ever seen him throw. Everything. His aggressiveness, his slider, breaking ball, changeup; all of them were as good as I’ve seen.
“That was exactly what we were asking for, and then some.”
Asked if he was intrigued by what Kelly might do if given more regular starts, Matheny said “No question about it.”
It was an indication Kelly may have earned himself another opportunity as the Cardinals’ No. 5 starter.
“I like pitching, period,” Kelly said after lowering his ERA to 3.44. “To be in the rotation would be awesome, but I just take the ball when they tell me and take the opportunity when I get out there.
“I’m pitching right now in the moment. I feel like my stuff is there, in the zone.”
Kelly matched Julio Teheran through the sixth before finding trouble in the seventh.
With one out, Simmons singled and moved to third on pinch-hitter Joey Terdoslavich’s soft double to the left-center gap.
Kelly issued an intentional walk to Jason Heyward to load the bases. Right-hander Michael Maness replaced Kelly and got Justin Upton to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Teheran allowed two hits in seven innings, striking out six and walking one.
Simmons’ bases-loaded, two-out double came on a 99 mph fastball from Trevor Rosenthal. With the count at 2-1, Simmons was looking for a fastball.
“I know he was behind in the count and I know he’s comfortable with his fastball,” Simmons said. “He throws pretty hard. I was ready for it. … I was just looking for something over the plate and he threw it somewhere I could reach it.”
Randy Choate (1-1) walked Freddie Freeman to open the eighth. Evan Gattis struck out and Brian McCann singled. Rosenthal relieved and struck out Dan Uggla before walking Chris Johnson to load the bases.
Luis Avilan (3-0) pitched a perfect eighth and Craig Kimbrel recorded three outs to earn his 30th save.
Teheran allowed a two-out double to Matt Holliday in the first and then walked Allen Craig. The right-hander permitted only one baserunner – Jon Jay doubled in the fifth – through the next six innings.
“I think that’s the best game I’ve ever pitched,” Teheran said. “The command I had today, I think that’s the best I’ve had this year.”
Holliday was activated off the 15-day disabled list before the game. He had been out since July 12 with a strained right hamstring.
Simmons hit eighth as Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez juggled his lineup. Heyward hit leadoff for only the second game this season. Upton, normally the No. 3 hitter, batted second for the first time in 2013.
Simmons had two hits. Though he ranks second on the team with 14 go-ahead RBIs, Simmons felt he was overdue to deliver the clutch hit.
“I know I’ve been struggling with runners in scoring position this year,” he said. “I’ve been trying, but it’s nice to see results.”