St. Louis Cardinals can’t go wrong with fifth-starter decision

The St. Louis Cardinals have used three weeks of spring training to find their likely middle infielders for the upcoming season, but one big decision remains as to who will take the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Fortunately, the Cardinals should be in good shape regardless of who they choose.


Three contestants began the battle for the final starting spot at the beginning of spring training, and the Cardinals have already eliminated one contender. They told Trevor Rosenthal last week he would not make the rotation, but he would likely have a prominent spot in the bullpen.

So that leaves Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller to fight for that last spot. Not coincidentally, the Cardinals plan to have both pitch Thursday against the Atlanta Braves in a game that will most likely be the Cardinals final evaluation before they make their decision.

Kelly has made two starts so far this year. He went two innings in each outing and gave up just one run combined. However, his control has been erratic, and he has walked five batters in those four innings.

Miller has also pitched twice this spring, but just one was a start. He’s given up three runs combined, but he’s also walked just one hitter.

Cardinals management said earlier in the week that a decision is near because the winner would need the next three starts to build stamina for the regular season, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The odds favor Kelly for several reasons. He is two years older and has more experience in the starting rotation. Kelly made 16 starts last year, while Miller just came up in September to make a token two starts.

Miller is also a higher-rated prospect who the Cardinals hope becomes a cornerstone of the rotation long into the future. And although Miller has looked impressive in everything he’s done at the big-league level, the Cardinals have been burned plenty of times by bringing up a young pitcher who could’ve used a little more time in the minors.

And that’s where Miller figures to go if he doesn’t win the job. Kelly pitched eight times last year as a long reliever, and he could easily slide back and fortify the bullpen again. However, the Cardinals already have Rosenthal, Fernando Salas, Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte as solid righthanded relievers they can bring in to shut down a game. Kelly would likely be wasted in mop-up duty if he went to the bullpen.

The bullpen also wouldn’t be the best spot for Miller because he is going to need to establish the stamina necessary to pitch as a starter for an entire season. He is much more likely to rack up innings with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds than in long relief out of the Cardinals bullpen.

Either way, Thursday will probably be one of the most interesting days of the Cardinals 2013 spring training.

This is what spring training is all about. Two players came into camp knowing they had to perform well to win a job, and one of them will likely walk off the mound Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., as part of one of the most exclusive clubs in St. Louis: the Cardinals starting rotation.

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