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Kelly highlights Cardinals' fourth straight victory

Bid for final rotation spot aided by strong start, 3-for-3 day at plate

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Joe Kelly strengthened his bid to win the fifth spot in St. Louis' starting rotation, and he also had some fun at the plate with a trio of hits that helped the Cardinals cruise toward a 6-2 win over the Braves on Saturday afternoon at Champion Stadium.

Along with surrendering one run and scattering four hits over 5 1/3 innings, Kelly drove in a pair of runs and recorded a single in each of his three plate appearances. The St. Louis right-hander became the first pitcher to record three hits in a Spring Training game since Chris Volstad did it for the Marlins in a March 30, 2010 game against the Nationals.

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Kelly fueled the Cards' three-run third inning by recording a single that put runners at first and second base with none out. Peter Bourjos followed with a sacrifice bunt that Braves starting pitcher Gus Schlosser fielded before uncorking an errant throw that scored Tony Cruz and set the stage for Daniel Descalso to follow with a two-run single.

After producing a fifth-inning leadoff single that was followed by Bourjos' RBI double off Jordan Walden, Kelly capped his productive offensive performance with a two-run sixth-inning single against left-handed reliever Ian Thomas.

In his bid to win his battle against Carlos Martinez for the fifth spot in St. Louis' rotation, Kelly retired each of the first seven batters he faced and did not allow a Braves batter to reach second base until Ramiro Pena doubled with two outs in the fifth inning. Jordan Schafer drove in Pena with the second of the two singles he recorded against Kelly.

"What a great day for Joe," manager Mike Matheny said. "We're watching all these guys kind of step it up right now and for him to follow in line, he had great focus, had a great approach to what he wanted to do today and the execution was spot on."

With their starting pitching depth depleted by the injuries sustained by Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy this week, the Braves allowed Schlosser to complete four innings in his first start of the year. The big right-hander was perfect in two of his innings and surrendered three of his four hits during the third-inning uprising.

Up Next: The Cardinals return to Jupiter, Fla., on Sunday for a 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Mets. Adam Wainwright will start for St. Louis, which has already named the veteran right-hander its Opening Day starter. This will be the third of five spring starts Wainwright makes before facing Cincinnati on March 31. The game will be televised on MLB.TV and FOX Sports Midwest.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for

St. Louis Cardinals, Daniel Descalso, Joe Kelly