Padres right-hander Casey Kelly, the key piece in a trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox in December 2010, made his big-league debut at Petco Park a few days after Boston shipped Gonzalez back to the West Coast. Kelly, the 30th player taken overall in the 2008 draft, had worked just 37 2/3 innings in 2012 due to elbow issues before arriving in San Diego to face the Braves on Monday.
Kevin Goldstein ranked Kelly the number 7 prospect in a loaded Padres system before the season, praising his athleticism and ability to throw strikes, but noting his lack of dominance (Kelly's 6.6 K/9 in the Texas League in 2011 was below the league average of 7.3) and calling his “perfect world projection” a number 3 or 4 starter. Even with those caveats, Kelly appeared on Goldstein's preseason top 100 list, checking in at number 78.
After drawing rave reviews in spring training and tossing two gems at Triple-A Tucson, Kelly landed on the disabled list in a “precautionary” move due to elbow tenderness. Four months later, Kelly finally returned to action, making three starts in the Rookie level Arizona League and three more at Double-A San Antonio.
In his big-league debut, Kelly threw six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out four. He worked quickly, displaying poise on the mound and the athleticism expected of a former shortstop (he started a nice 1-6-3 double play off the bat of Brian McCann to end the fourth and singled up the middle in his second at-bat).
Kelly struggled to command his fastball, throwing just 7 of 17 first-pitch fastballs for strikes. His curve showed good life, with three of his four strikeouts coming on the pitch. He got Paul Janish twice–looking in the second and swinging (he tried to check but couldn't) in the fifth. Kelly also got Jason Heyward to chase a curve in the dirt to end the third.
Although Kelly didn't throw many changeups (6 of 87 pitches), it was an effective pitch. The McCann double play came on a 1-2 changeup. Kelly also showed a willingness to throw it at different counts, twice using it at 2-1 (Chipper Jones swung and missed in the fourth, Michael Bourn took it low for a ball four in the sixth).
Kelly also lost velocity as the game progressed, although this is likely more a function of his long layoff than anything else. His four-seamer sat at 92-95 in the first inning, then settled in at 90-92 before dipping to 88-90 in the sixth. He also features a two-seamer that he threw eight times on Monday, typically at 90-91.
The lack of command and loss in velocity haven't been concerns in the past, so I'm assuming those are due to adrenaline from making his debut and from missing so much time during the season. They still bear watching in his next start.
Despite these minor complaints, Kelly–who turns 23 in October–showed why the Padres coveted him. He may not be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but health permitting should have a nice career as a groundball-inducing workhorse, which is something most teams could use.