St. Louis Cardinals righthanded starting pitcher Shelby Miller had to beat out Joe Kelly for the fifth and final spot in the rotation through somewhat of a spring training-long duel between the two pitchers in 2013, and Kelly faces a similar challenge that could produce a similar result in 2014.
Miller has a lock on a starting job for the 2014 season, so righthanded pitcher Carlos Martinez has taken his spot as the rookie on the verge of a spot in the rotation and in competition with Kelly, who could easily fall victim to another young Cardinals pitching sensation.
Martinez has done plenty to impress through roughly the first half of camp. He is 1-0 after a four-inning, two-hit performance Wednesday in a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets. That was his third start of the spring, and he lowered his earned-run average to 1.80 to go with five strikeouts.
Kelly, meanwhile, struggled his first two starts of the spring. He allowed seven runs and walked four batters in a combined four innings before he settled down for a 5.1-inning winning performance Saturday in a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves when he allowed one run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts.
Kelly did not pitch particularly poorly during the 2013 spring training camp, but Cardinals management obviously thought Miller was capable of a strong rookie season that started with him in the rotation on Opening Day, even though Kelly ended up in the rotation in the postseason while Miller sat in the bullpen unused aside from one inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Division Series.
Miller still set the bar high for Martinez or any of the other young Cardinals pitchers after he went 15-9 with a 3.06 earned-run average and finished third in the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year voting, but Martinez has the talent to have a comparable first full season in Major League Baseball.
Martinez pitched in 21 games for the Cardinals in 2013 and became the eighth-inning setup reliever toward the end of the regular season and in the postseason, where he posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 innings.
Still, the Cardinals were cautious in how much they used Martinez in 2013. They first called him up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in May but sent him back to the minor leagues in June and late July to try to keep his arm fresh, as well as let him start at Memphis to maintain his endurance in case an injury befell one of the other starting pitchers with the big-league club.
They would obviously take care of Martinez again in the upcoming season, and he could very well move start the season back in the eighth-inning role because the Cardinals have few options for that spot, particularly if righthanded reliever Jason Motte is not yet fully recovered from the elbow injury he suffered at the beginning of spring training a year ago.
Martinez has all but guaranteed himself a roster spot for when the team opens the season March 31 against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, but he has pitched so well in his first three starts of the spring that he will await his first appearance from the dugout rather than the bullpen, just the way Miller did the year before.