Jason Motte injury might have helped St. Louis Cardinals’ Shelby Miller decision

The St. Louis Cardinals finally made their most-anticipated decision of their 2013 spring training camp Monday when they announced Shelby Miller would be the team’s fifth starter to start the regular season. And while Miller truly might be the better choice, circumstances surely made the decision easier.

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Miller began spring training in a competition with teammates Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly to win the fifth and final spot in the Cardinals’ starting rotation.

The team quickly decided Rosenthal would be more of an asset in the bullpen after a couple of shaky starts early in spring training, but the battle between Miller and Kelly lasted nearly an entire month.

The competition lasted so long because the two pitchers had nearly identical stats throughout the spring. Both had one relatively bad outing, and each had several good appearances. Miller won the battle with a 3.94 earned-run average in five appearances with 13 strikeouts and five walks. Kelly posted a 5.54 ERA in five appearances, but he also allowed six walks and just two strikeouts.

But an injury to closer Jason Motte in the final week might have played as large a role in the final decision as anything. Motte fell victim to an elbow strain March 21 and will likely start the season on the disabled list.

That forced Mitchell Boggs into the closer’s role and opened up a spot at the front of the bullpen roster, which Kelly will likely fill now that the team has given Miller the starting job.

Kelly has experience in the bullpen. He was a closer while in college at the University of California-Riverside and made 15 relief appearances for the Cardinals in 2012 during the regular season and playoffs.

Plus, he performed well as a reliever. Kelly gave up just four earned runs in his eight regular-season relief appearances, and he allowed four runs in his seven playoff appearances.

The Cardinals were going to be in a difficult position if they gave Kelly the job and Motte hadn’t been injured. They wanted Miller to be a starter at some level, whether that be with the Cardinals or the Triple-A affiliate Memphis Redbirds, but they had groomed him as a starter in the minor leagues and were reluctant to put him in the bullpen.

Kelly, with his experience as a reliever, could more easily switch between the rotation and bullpen, but the Cardinals still might not have had a spot for him if Motte didn’t suffer his elbow injury.

The Cardinals already had plenty of righthanded relievers, including Boggs, Rosenthal, Edward Mujica and Fernando Salas.

That glut of pitchers might have forced the Cardinals to send Kelly to the minors if he didn’t win the starting job, but now they can keep both pitchers on the roster.

The Cardinals are taking a little bit more of a risk by choosing Miller as their fifth starter. Miller has pitched in just seven games as a major leaguer. He pitched well, posting a 1.32 ERA, but now the Cardinals will count on him to be a consistent starter for an entire season.

Kelly showed in 2012 he could be consistently effective for the better part of the season, and Miller will have to prove the same thing this year.

If he does, the Cardinals made a great spring-training decision. If not, they could be in for a long season that requires manager Mike Matheny constantly juggle his pitching staff, and those types of seasons rarely conclude with a playoff appearance.

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