By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, May 26 (Yonhap) -- After an uncharacteristically shaky month of April, LG Twins ace Casey Kelly is back to being his usual, effective self on the mound.
Kelly improved to 4-0 for May after helping the Twins beat the SSG Landers 8-3 Thursday night. The right-hander gave up three runs -- one unearned -- in six innings while striking out four and walking two. He has a 2.33 ERA across 27 innings this month, after pitching to a 5.66 ERA with a 1-2 record in six starts last month.
So what has changed? In Kelly's words, not so much.
"I think I just kept believing in myself. I really haven't changed much," Kelly told Yonhap News Agency after the win at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, some 30 kilometers west of Seoul. "Just stuck with my routine, just kept working hard between starts. My teammates have picked me up a bunch, taking me aside and telling me everything's going to be OK."
This is Kelly's fifth season in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). In the 2019-2022 window, Kelly led all qualified KBO starters with 58 wins, ranked second with a 2.89 ERA and 555 strikeouts, and third with 697 innings pitched.
In 2022, Kelly posted career-best numbers of a 2.54 ERA, 153 strikeouts and 16 wins.
All of this made his wobbly start to the 2023 season so baffling. For his KBO career, he does have a higher ERA in April than every month from July to October, and it took him a little longer than usual to find his groove this year.
Kelly walked 11 batters in 35 innings last month but has issued just three free passes in 27 innings this month.
His fastball velocity, for instance, has ticked up noticeably in recent outings. He touched 150 kph Thursday, a mark he didn't reach in April.
Kelly averaged a career-high 146.8 kph with his four-seamers last year. The mark was down to 145.2 in late April this year but is now back up to 146.4 kph after Thursday.
Pitchers' velocity tends to rise in sync with the temperature, and Kelly said he is no different.
"It's getting hotter, and I really enjoy summer in Korea," Kelly said. "I'm starting to figure out all my pitches. My slider was really good tonight. I'm thankful to have that back. So, just continue to put the work in and come out and just give the team a chance to win."
With Thursday's win, the Twins reclaimed sole possession of the lead over the Landers at 28-15-1 (wins-losses-ties).
Kelly has been to the postseason in each of the past four years with the Twins and seems well on his way for another trip this fall. And Kelly is not taking it for granted.
"I've done it for four years, so just thankful to have the team that we have," he said. "It's something special this year, and I'm just thankful to be a part of it."