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Kelly had a long journey to the Majors

While the major league debuts of Mark Appel and Darick Hall may have garnered more attention, the debut of pitcher Michael Kelly is an equally compelling story.

Before making his debut with the Phillies on June 16, Kelly was one of just 10 of the first 50 picks from the 2011 MLB Draft to not reach the majors.

For 11 seasons, all Kelly has known has been long bus rides and minor league venues.

“I can’t put it into words. It’s been a long road, it’s been a lot of ups and downs, but it was worth every second,” said Kelly recently.

Most players who get the call to the majors take a moment to look around and see a major league ballpark from a view that few people ever see. For Kelly though, what is referred to as a “third deck moment” never came. “I was just focused on pitching and throwing strikes. It hit me more so after the inning,” Kelly recalled.

Kelly made two appearances against the Washington Nationals and threw two shutout innings, but did hit a batter and walked another while striking out one.

Originally drafted with the 48th overall pick by the San Diego Padres, Kelly first reached both Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, and has bounced back and forth between the two levels ever since, although it appears his back-and-forth time now will be between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia. The Phillies are leaving no stone unturned in their search for bullpen help, and Kelly has been one of the guys who came in for a quick look despite his minor league numbers – a 5.00 ERA before he was brought to Philly – did not openly warrant a shot. What the Phillies saw was a 33% strikeout rate this season with Lehigh Valley.

Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson was also intrigued by the fact that the 29-year-old has a mid to upper-90s fastball, and a strong slider that is often used as his out pitch. The Phillies are working with Thomson to lower his walk rate - 12 walks in 23 1/3 innings this season at Lehigh Valley. MLB roster rules stated that all teams had to cut to no more than 13 pitchers by June 20, and Kelly was the 14th man when he was brought to Philly, so it followed that he was the guy sent back when a cut had to be made.

“You think back on the years that you have put in, the things that you have been through and regardless of how rough things got, I still got to make it at the end. It was a good feeling,” said Kelly. “Now, it’s just a matter of getting better and figuring out how to get back up there and help the team win.

One of Kelly’s eye-opening experiences came in 2019. He had become a minor league free agent and went unsigned, so he caught on with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. Kelly was pitching for little more than the hope that he could catch the eye of a major league scout and get back on a path toward the majors.

“I learned a lot while I was there. The guys that you are around in independent ball are different; they are not getting paid, they’re finding a way to get back in, so their outlook is a lot different, and they don’t take things for granted,” said Kelly. “It gave me a new perspective on baseball, and helped me learn that baseball is still fun, but at the end of the day, you have to put a lot of work in.”


... Mark Appel has allowed just one base runner to reach in two innings with the Phillies, and has a strikeout to show for his first MLB endeavors. Unfortunately, Appel’s opportunity has been spotty, and after making appearances on back-to-back days, he has not pitched since last Thursday. As for Hall, he is quickly becoming a fan favorite after hitting three home runs – two in one game – for the Phillies in his first three major league games. Thomson put Hall right into the cleanup spot and apart from a day off against the Cardinals, Hall has stayed in the number-four hole as the team’s designated hitter. Hall is 4-for-18 (.222) in five games, including going 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter.


... Pitcher Aaron Barrett is calling it quits. The IronPigs pitcher will officially retire from professional baseball following the July 4 game, which will ironically be against Rochester, one of his former teams. Barrett made 95 relief appearances with the Mets over four seasons, fighting through both Tommy John surgery and a broken humerus bone in his pitching arm. After both major injuries, Barrett fought his way back to the majors. He came into this season looking at it as his last chance and after struggling with the IronPigs this season, he has decided to move on to the next phase of his life.


... Lehigh Valley is one of four teams – Durham (Tampa Bay), Jacksonville (Miami), and Worcester (Boston) being the others – who are tied atop the IL East standings, all with 42-36 records. The IronPigs are home this week to face the Rochester Red Wings (Washington) for six games, with the Wings sitting one game behind the foursome at the top of the division, and Buffalo (Toronto) a half-game back of the group.

Michael Kelly unwinds with a pitch during an Iron Pigs game earlier this season. CHERYL PURSELL/LEHIGH VALLEY IRONPIGS