But after watching Kelly struggle in Spring Training and seeing how quickly Francisco Pena fit in, the Cardinals opted to cast Kelly in a different role, one where the returned to Triple-A to improve his game. Simultaneously, he also helped improve others.
The wave of young pitchers who have filled holes on the Major League staff all came through Kelly on their way to St. Louis.
"They continued to grow down there, and now they're bringing their skills up here," Kelly said. "It's been a lot of fun to watch, and I'm excited to be here and be part of this."
Before returning to St. Louis for Saturday's 4-0 loss to the Reds as part of the Cardinals' first wave of September call-ups, Kelly had spent just 11 days on the Cardinals' active roster in 2018. That's after appearing in 44 big league games the previous two seasons.
"Credit goes to Carson, because I think he took advantage of his daily opportunity to grow as a player, and I think he was able to do that in all areas of his game," manager Mike Shildt said. "He could easily have hung his head or gotten discouraged, gotten a little frustrated, whatever a combination of those emotions looks like. But he chose the opportunity to improve."
A tough August (.633 OPS) pulled down Kelly's season numbers (.269/.378/.395/.773) with Memphis. But he pointed to his uptick in on-base percentage and walk rate as particular positives he took from the season.
Kelly is unlikely to get much playing time over the next month, as Molina isn't scripted for many days off. However, having a third catcher on the roster does free Shildt up to use Kelly or Pena more liberally as pinch-hitters.
In addition to Kelly, lefty reliever Tyler Webb and right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon were officially recalled from Memphis before Saturday's game.
After giving the inflammation in his right shoulder 10 days to calm down, outfielder Marcell Ozuna returned from the 10-day disabled list on Saturday and was immediately available off the bench. Shildt said he expects Ozuna to be back in the Cardinals' lineup on Sunday.
Ozuna reported feeling better after receiving a cortisone injection in his shoulder last week and was optimistic that the limitations he had throwing and hitting wouldn't be so pronounced after some time off.
Adam Wainwright threw five scoreless innings in what was likely his final outing of a three-week rehab assignment on Saturday. Pitching for Triple-A Memphis, Wainwright held Nashville to five hits and two walks while striking out seven and throwing 63 of his 90 pitches for strikes.
Over his six rehab appearances, Wainwright scattered 12 hits and four walks over 17 scoreless innings. He struck out 23.
Wainwright is expected back in St. Louis on Sunday, at which time he'll confer with the Cardinals about what's next. It's most likely that he'll be activated from the DL next week and slot in to make a start on the team's upcoming road trip.
• Michael Wacha (left oblique strain) is scheduled to throw a side session on Sunday, Shildt said. The Cardinals will then determine if the right-hander is ready to return to his rehab assignment.
• Kolten Wong (left hamstring strain) fielded ground balls on Saturday and has resumed some other mobility work. He has been hitting in the batting cages for the last several days