CHICAGO With Tuesday's trade deadline fast approaching, the St. Louis Cardinals must decide whether or not upgrades are needed to either their starting rotation or bullpen. Or both.
And for rookie starter Joe Kelly, he finds himself right in the middle of it.
If the Cardinals acquire a starter, the former college closer could be moved back to the bullpen to make way for the new acquisition and provide a boost as a reliever. The less likely possibility even exists that Kelly himself could be included in a trade.
Or the Cardinals could do nothing and Kelly would stick in the rotation at least until rehabbing lefty Jaime Garcia is scheduled to return to the rotation in a couple of weeks. And until something happens, Kelly plans to stick to his current routine.
"I don't look into that," Kelly said. "I haven't been here for that. I just take each day by day and worry about us and us trying to win and go out and do my stuff. I don't worry anything about that."
Kelly surely didn't look like somebody contemplating his future Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The right-hander allowed three runs on five hits in 6 13 innings and was saddled with another tough-luck loss in the Cardinals 3-2 setback to the Cubs.
It was the seventh straight quality start for Kelly and just the second time in nine starts since joining the rotation in early June that he allowed more than two earned runs. He's allowed just three in each of the other two.
Asked if he was comfortable having Kelly in the rotation the rest of the season, manager Mike Matheny said, "To me we're in that scenario right now. He's pitched great for us so we just keep going.
"There's a lot of different things going on and potentially could go on but we progress with what we have and we're very content with what we've got. If your starters are giving you quality starts and he's given just as many as anybody lately, that's all you can ask. He's given us a chance to win and we just weren't able to get enough offense to help him out."
The hard-throwing Kelly was touched for two runs in the first inning but retired 14 consecutive batters before a leadoff single in the sixth. He pitched into the seventh inning for the first time this year but was removed with the game tied at 2 after a leadoff walk and single put runners at the corner with no outs.
Reliever Brian Fuentes entered after a soft liner froze the runners and struck out Luis Valbuena for the second out. But Reed Johnson's two-out bunt rolled perfectly up the third base line and allowed the Cubs to score the third and eventual winning run.
The Cardinals have lost three of Kelly's last five starts by scores of 3-2. His overall record dropped to 1-4 Saturday despite the right-hander's 2.96 ERA. The Cardinals are 3-6 in Kelly's nine starts and have scored a total of 13 runs in the six losses.
In each of his nine starts, the Cardinals have had plenty of chances to win the game.
"That's all I could ask for," Kelly said. "Wins and losses are out of my control. All I want to do is go out there and keep it close. We had a chance. I don't really get too carried away with, I have to get a win,' I just go out there and take my same routine and same stuff to the mound every time.
"It might go my way, it might not go my way, but I'm going to try to do everything I can to make good pitches. Once I release the ball, there's nothing I can do about it."
Kelly was not among Baseball America's top-10 Cardinals prospects when the season began due to a 5.01 ERA in 11 starts with Double-A Springfield to end the year. But he surprised some by opening 2012 at Triple-A and took full advantage of it.
The right-hander had a 2.86 ERA in 12 starts with Memphis and passed top prospect Shelby Miller on the totem pole when he was promoted to replace Garcia in the rotation on June 10.
He's done more than the Cardinals could have ever imagined him doing when he arrived last month. And arguably he's been better than just about anybody who the Cardinals could acquire in a trade would do either.
But with Tuesday's 3 p.m. central time deadline now less than 72 hours away, talks will surely intensify regarding the Cardinals and their search for outside help. They could make a big move, or they could do nothing.
And Kelly's future will be directly impacted by whatever they decide to do.
"I think we just don't get too far ahead of ourselves because I'm very happy with how he's pitching and if he's out there every fifth day, I'll continue to be happy," Matheny said. "Things do happen over a course of period of time around the deadline, but I don't want him thinking about that. I want him getting ready for his next start.
"I'm extremely impressed with how he's handled himself and how he's gone about it. We all have distractions in our lives, personally and professionally and when these things come up, it's really just mental toughness of, I'm just going to keep pitching,' and that's really where I want him.
"The last thing he needs is me saying something different because I don't believe anything different. I believe right now and give days from now he's going to be standing up there again. And that's the way he needs to prepare."
Kelly's next scheduled start is Friday August 3 against the Milwaukee Brewers in St. Louis.