Joe Kelly threw a football to improve his curveball

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Joe Kelly has impressed onlookers in Cardinals camp with his improved curveball and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch writes that the right-hander credits throwing a football during the offseason for the change:

Kelly said by throwing the football he was able to find an arm slot that he could consistently use and a shorter arm swing that adds to his deception. He was able to condition his hand’s release for better control. He shifted his usual grip on the curve to meet the new arm slot.The righty acknowledged that he worried about “losing velocity” by making the change. But he hasn’t.

Kelly stepped into the Cardinals’ rotation down the stretch last season and was fantastic, going 9-2 with a 2.09 ERA, but St. Louis’ impressive starting pitching depth means he’s not even guaranteed to be a starter this season. Goold notes that Kelly is one of seven starters competing for four openings behind Adam Wainwright, so that’s where the improved curveball could factor in.

And, really, Sam Bradford’s gripon the Rams’ starting job can’t be that secure anyway.

Rakuten Golden Eagles sign Jabari Blash

Jabari Blash
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Former Angels outfielder Jabari Blash has signed a one-year deal with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball, the team announced Friday. Per the Japan Times, the deal is said to be worth around $1.06 million. Blash was released from his contract with the Angels at the end of November.

The 29-year-old outfielder has had a rough go of it in the majors, where he failed to duplicate the promising results he delivered in the minors. While he consistently batted above .250 with 20-30 home runs per season at the Double- and Triple-A level, he petered out in back-to-back gigs with the Padres and Angels and slumped toward a .103/.200/.128 finish across 45 PA for Anaheim in 2018.

The hope, of course, is that the environment in NPB will help him get a better handle on his issues at the plate — in a best case scenario, resulting in a full-scale transformation that could make him more marketable to MLB teams in the future. To that end, Blash expects to be utilized as a cleanup batter in the Eagles’ lineup and will focus on assisting the club as they make a run toward the Japan Series.