Kelley to start Thursday, but he’s not a starter

The pitching lineup for Thursday’s split-squad games raised a few eyebrows when Shawn Kelley was listed as the starter for the game against the Royals.

Is Kelley now a candidate for the fifth-starter job, which seems to be a wide-open race now that Cliff Lee almost surely won’t start the season because of his strained ab muscle? The Mariners, after all, have stretched Kelley’s pitch count the past couple of weeks, having him work more than one inning in four of his past five outings.

Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair says no, that Thursday’s game isn’t part of a grand plan to convert Kelley into a starter.

“It’s basically a bullpen game,” Adair said. “The Angels did that here yesterday.”

After Kelley, the Mariners will throw right-handers Kanekoa Texeira, Mark Lowe and Chad Cordero.

“We’re using it to our advantage to get those guys stretched out,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.

This will be Kelley’s first start of any kind since the 2007 NCAA regionals, when his Austin Peay team faced Vanderbilt. Kelley locked up with some guy named David Price in a classic pitching duel.

Vandy beat the Governors 2-1 in 11 innings, and Kelley pitched 10 of those for Austin Peay.

“I threw 137 pitches” he said. He admitted to being a little gassed at the end, “but I didn’t walk anyone.”

Kelley gave up five hits and struck out nine. Price went nine innings, also allowing five hits and two walks but recording 17 strikeouts.

Nearly three years later, Kelley will warm up as a starter again, facing the Royals today. He figures to go three innings or until he reaches his pitch count. How many might that be?

“Not 137,” he said.

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