You could say righthander Joe Kelly picked up where he left off last year, except for the fact that he was left in the bullpen for the first two months of the Cardinals’ 2013 season.

In 2012, Kelly had 10 of his 16 starts last at least six innings and in each or those 10, he allowed three or fewer earned runs. Making his first start of this season, Kelly came one out short of a similar achievement Wednesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Pressed into service because of a rainout last weekend, Kelly held the Diamondbacks to one run and four hits in 5 2/3 innings while throwing 80 pitches before giving way to lefthander Randy Choate in the sixth.

But Choate and Kelly were victimized when Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday couldn’t handle Jason Kubel’s drive and the Diamondbacks scored the lead run.

Arizona nicked Choate for a run in the seventh and then Maikel Cleto, just recalled from Memphis to help an understaffed bullpen, added fuel to the Arizona fire by serving up a grand slam to Paul Goldschmidt, the top RBI man in the National League.

With Cleto continuing to pitch as manager Mike Matheny rested the remainder of his bullpen, the Diamondbacks continued to score, riding off to a 10-3 win before a Busch Stadium paid house of 40,202, many of whom went home to towel off after Goldschmidt’s homer.

And now the Cardinals must win the finale of the four-game series tonight to avoid losing a series for the first time in their last 12.

They have lost two straight games for the first time since April 27-29, when they dropped three in a row.

The game began 46 minutes late because of rain, and then it actually started in rain. And it continued in rain, although Kelly said it only bothered him when he got a couple of drops on his glasses.

Matheny thought Kelly had the best changeup he had seen him throw and said, “Kelly did as good a job as you could expect.”

“I didn’t know how many pitches I was going to go,” said Kelly (0-3). “I was just trying to get through as many innings as quick as I could.”

In somewhat of a bizarre fashion, both Kelly and Cleto aided the rest of the bullpen although Cleto, throwing the final 59 pitches, worked longer than he probably should have.

“I tip my hat to Cleto for staying out there and really soaking up some pitches,” said Matheny. “You just hate to see somebody hit around like that. We would have loved to have got him out (of the game).

“But we needed somebody to come in and throw innings for us and that was the purpose of getting Maikel here.”

With injured pitcher Jaime Garcia translating, Cleto said, “I tried to give my best, but unfortunately, I made a couple of mistakes.”