St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny made a very interesting comment on Wednesday. With regard to the three-way battle for the final rotation spot among Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, the skipper said the following, as reported by B.J. Rains:
“We’re getting close,” Matheny said of needing to make a decision. “Yeah, we’re getting close.”
This was on March 6, with 21 spring games remaining. To most outside observers, the remark seemed premature. Time needed for any of them to adapt to a bullpen assignment should be quick and starting in Triple-A requires the same preparation as in the majors.
One reason cited by the manager was the decreasing availability of innings to pitch. However, with both Fernando Salas and Mitchell Boggs away at the WBC, it seems the full innings crunch may still be a couple of weeks away. Further, a number of non-competitive pitchers for an immediate spot with St. Louis remain in big league camp.
Perhaps Matheny’s timing was chosen to create additional urgency for the three – especially Thursday’s starter Kelly and Friday’s starter Miller.
To date, the two have had precious little time to strut their stuff in spring game action.
Initially slowed by shoulder soreness, Miller’s debut was a week later than planned. He threw two innings against Washington the day after Kelly. While Shelby fanned the side in his first inning, he yielded a solo home run in his second frame.
Rosenthal, on the other hand, has appeared three times, the last two in relief, and he has pitched a total of eight innings. He struggled in his initial outing, taking the loss in the opening spring game. Rosenthal went three innings on February 28, but just two on March 6. The right-hander has not been his typical dominating self, seemingly getting behind on the counts more frequently than usual.
Rosenthal was called into Matheny’s office following Wednesday’s outing, amid some speculation the decision was communicated that he is being moved into the bullpen.
Even if so, the final relief spot with St. Louis is not necessarily guaranteed him. Eduardo Sanchez is once again throwing strikes and has put his name back on the map. The right-hander has made four appearances, fanning six in 4 1/3 innings with no walks and one run allowed.
Could it be that the rotation leader had already been defined coming into camp, with the three-way competition declared to ensure the right decision was penciled in? It isn’t all that crazy. After all, Kelly made 16 starts in 2012 and his ERA was second to Kyle Lohse among rotation members. Also effective as a reliever, Kelly gives Matheny proven options.
Miller has the highest ceiling, and made an impressive start against Cincinnati in game 162 last season. Yet the club has several good reasons for Miller to spend a bit more time in Triple-A. His time in St. Louis’ rotation will come, whether in April or sometime later this season.
Based on Matheny’s Wednesday remark, Miller’s and Kelly’s performances these next two days may be the final tipping points for him to lock down his decision on his fifth starter.
(Note: Thursday’s game vs. the Yankees at Jupiter will be on KMOX, no television. Friday’s contest at Viera against Washington will be on MASN television, no radio. The full Cardinals spring training broadcast schedule is located here.)
Update: In Matheny’s Thursday morning remarks to the media, the manager confirmed the decision to move Rosenthal to the bullpen.