KANSAS CITY -- The results haven't been dazzling for Joe Kelly just three starts into his Major League career. But he has impressed with the way he's assimilated into the clubhouse and with adjustments he's already begun to make on the mound.
The Cardinals don't appear to have any immediate plans to remove Kelly from the rotation, as his performance thus far has been good enough for a team without starters Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. The Cards will likely need Kelly for three more starts before the All-Star break.
After that, Kelly's job security is likely to be determined by Carpenter's readiness. In the meantime, Kelly is taking this opportunity to soak in the wisdom of a veteran pitching staff.
"It's a great environment," manager Mike Matheny said. "You see him gravitating toward the younger players, and you see the veterans gravitating toward him. Guys are challenging him with some different ideas. I've seen a pitcher that has improved significantly in a years' time. He's still a young player, but he's taking good strides."
Kelly earned his first big league victory on Friday, despite pitching without sharp fastball command. He logged a career-high six innings in the outing.
"It's awesome," Kelly said of the win. "I just want it to be one of many."
Cards sizing up needs before Trade Deadline
KANSAS CITY -- With just over six weeks remaining before the Trade Deadline, the Cardinals' current needs would trend in the direction of pitching. Chris Carpenter's continued progress, however, could alter that.
General manager John Mozeliak said earlier this month that he hoped to have a more established timeline for Carpenter's return by early July. Such knowledge, he said, would help to determine where his priorities would lie heading toward the Trade Deadline.
With Carpenter having now thrown to batters and nearing the start of a Minor League rehab assignment, Mozeliak should get his wish.
"As we get into the early part of July, we should have a really good idea of the likelihood of him being able to contribute," Mozeliak said. "Right now, all the steps he's taking, all the hurdles he's going over, it's positive. Really, it's about understanding what the trade market will look like with starting pitching, but also seeing if Chris Carpenter can help us.
"Right now we're able to have a pretty good idea of that. We still have a few weeks before we have to make a final decision on that. But again, I feel pretty optimistic with where we are on that given the uphill battle that it's been."
Carpenter's return would be a boost to a Cardinals rotation that is also currently without Jaime Garcia. While Garcia, who is resting a left shoulder strain, hasn't resumed throwing, Mozeliak said on Saturday that the lefty should "be cleared to take the next step soon."
Those impending additions would be critical for the Cards, who will also have to monitor the workloads of Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright during the second half of the season.
Management was clear before the season started that Wainwright, who missed the 2011 season because of arm surgery, would likely not be allowed to clear the 200-innings mark this year. Lynn has never thrown more than 164 innings in any year, and that innings-high came two seasons ago.
Carpenter, Mozeliak confirmed, will come back as a starter. The club will not rush his return by starting him in the bullpen. Though the Cardinals were prepared to have Carpenter throw less than most starters in Spring Training, the club has not established a prescribed Minor League program for him this time around.
"Given it's Chris Carpenter, he's going to have a lot of say in this because he knows his body better than anybody," Mozeliak said. "You certainly don't want to leave him in the Minor Leagues if we don't have to."
As for the trade market now, it is still very much developing. More teams could fall into the buyer category, too, given the addition of one Wild Card team in both leagues.
"There does seem to be a balance in the standings right now," Mozeliak said. "How that will affect how teams look at if they're buyers or sellers, it's hard to say. But you get the feeling that, at the moment, there are more buyers than sellers."
Matheny sits Molina after I-70 night affair
KANSAS CITY -- Yadier Molina's contentious history with umpire Rob Drake, who was assigned to work the plate on Saturday, played a role in manager Mike Matheny's decision to sit his veteran catcher for the second game of the I-70 Series.
Molina and Drake have twice been involved in notable incidents, most recently on May 24. Unhappy with Drake's strike zone in the first inning against the Phillies, Molina argued with Drake several times early that night.
That exchange was seen as an offshoot of an altercation the two had last August, when Molina was suspended five games after making contact with Drake. That argument began after Drake called Molina out on strikes.
"I don't think it's any bash on any umpire in particular -- I know there were umpires that I didn't do well with," said Matheny, a former catcher. "I know that that dictated whether I was going to play or not. Yadi did a nice job last time. It got a little hairy, but they got it figured out and everybody handled their job professionally. All things considered, it made sense [to give him the day off]."
Matheny said the quick turnaround after a night game also played a role in the decision to start backup catcher Tony Cruz.
The starting time for the Cardinals' July 14 game in Cincinnati has changed due to the game being picked up for a FOX national broadcast. First pitch is now scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT.
Allen Craig returned to the lineup on Saturday. After taking a day off to nurse a sore left wrist, Craig started at first base in the second game of this three-game series. Craig's return allowed Matheny to move Matt Holliday into the designated hitter spot.
Matheny said Holliday, who has been dealing with a hip flexor injury, is "feeling much better."
During his discussions about next month's Trade Deadline, Mozeliak said he anticipates the Cardinals having the financial flexibility to absorb some salary, if there is such a need. The Cardinals demonstrated that they have money available to spend by recently pursuing Roy Oswalt, now pitching for the Rangers.
The Cards signed right-hander Juan Caballero following a two-day showcase in Puerto Rico last week. Major League Baseball hosted the showcase in order to give unsigned and undrafted players exposure to scouts from Major League clubs. The 19-year-old has been assigned to the Gulf Coast League Cardinals club.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.