Kelly takes next step in comeback process

Kelly takes next step in comeback process

SAN DIEGO -- The last time Casey Kelly threw a pitch in a game that actually mattered, one that counted, was on Sept. 27, 2012, a start against the Dodgers at Petco Park.

Kelly needed Tommy John surgery the following April, setting in place a long and winding rehabilitation process that has not only gone relatively smoothly but one that has brought him to a start Saturday for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore.

"Getting into a real game is definitely going to be a lot of fun," Kelly said.

Kelly threw two longer stints in extended spring training games in Arizona in April and has advanced to the point where he'll throw four innings or 60 pitches Saturday for the Storm against Inland Empire in a game in San Bernardino.

"Now it's just the next step … getting into harder competition," Kelly said. "The last outing [in Arizona] was four innings, 60 pitches and the next will be the same, only with higher intensity."

For as excited as Kelly is to start his rehabilitation stint -- the Padres haven't said how many times that he'll pitch there -- he's approaching it with some degree of caution.

"I'm still trying to build my stamina, getting comfortable on the mound and game situations," Kelly said.

As for others in the game -- and in his own organization -- who have taken longer coming off the same surgery or like Cory Luebke and Josh Johnson, who both needed a second surgery, Kelly said he can only worry about himself and taking care of his elbow moving ahead.

"Each case is very, very different," Kelly said. "I'm very lucky to have gone through the process moving forward without any big setbacks. I've just been worried about hitting each milestone."

Kelly, regarded as the fourth-best prospect in the Padres' system by MLB.com, was 2-3 with a 6.21 ERA in six starts for the Padres in August and September 2012.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.