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Kelly ready to prove himself after injury-plagued early career

Padres pitcher lost most of two seasons to elbow surgery

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Reconstructive elbow surgery wiped out Casey Kelly's entire 2013 season and a hiccup in his rehabilitation program last season limited him to just 20 1/3 innings, a development that did not just halt his development, but rendered him frustrated to no end.

"For yourself, as an athlete, you prove your worth by playing," Kelly said Saturday morning, sitting inside the Padres' clubhouse. "And when you're not playing, you can't prove your worth. You're not out there with your teammates helping them win games."

After two lost seasons, Kelly, the 25-year-old right-hander, the key piece to the Adrian Gonzalez deal to the Red Sox in December 2010, is determined to make up for lost time. Better still, his right elbow appears amenable to doing so.

Kelly threw his first bullpen session Friday with the other pitchers in Padres camp, which might have rated as a mundane session for many, but not Kelly, who is looking to kickstart his career.

"Day one … everything is feeling good," Kelly said, smiling.

Kelly, who won his big league debut with the Padres at Petco Park in 2012, went to Spring Training in 2013 looking to win a job in the rotation. But instead, Kelly suffered micro-tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and had surgery on April 2.

A year later, and with his rehabilitation going well, Kelly tossed six scoreless innings for Double-A San Antonio in May, striking out six. He appeared on his way back.

"I was right on schedule where I should have been and I had a little bit of a hiccup," he said. "Maybe I was pushing it a little too hard or needed a little more rest. There was some pain, so we shut it down.

"I think there's a difference between discomfort and pain. At first, it was discomfort. That last rehab start, there was pain. I knew I had to shut it down. I knew I couldn't keep going."

In September, Kelly had a platelet-rich plasma injection to help with the healing process. Six weeks later, he started his throwing program and hasn't had any pain since. Instead, Kelly has had only optimism.

"It's kind of crazy. I don't even think in my career that I have 400 innings," said Kelly, who actually has 419 innings, all but 29 in the Minor Leagues.

"I have a fresh arm. It's exciting. I'm only going to get better and better. Having surgery … that was a bummer, but I'm moving past this and I want to get better and better each time out."

Kelly, drafted by the Red Sox as a shortstop, made the conversion to pitching midway through 2009.

At this point in his career, Kelly needed regular work and innings. He'll begin his season in the Minor Leagues where he can pitch every fifth day. Beyond that, manager Bud Black said, only time will tell.

"I think the long-term view is the way to look at Casey's future and not the immediate gains, because he's got to clear the health hurdle," Black said. "And he's got to be confident in his arm and his stuff. He's got to be able to repeat outings, repeat performances, to really indicate that he's back."

That's all Kelly wants for himself, too.

"I want to play a full season and be healthy, compete, that's all I want," he said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter.
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