JUPITER, Fla. • The day the Cardinals said would be last Thursday may actually arrive this afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium.
Another day, another game closer to the regular-season opener in Arizona, and the Cardinals will trot out the two candidates for the fifth starter role. Shelby Miller will get the start against the Miami Marlins, and Joe Kelly will follow in relief. The two are set to split the game with no guarantees there will be any innings left over for the bullpen.
Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook have each pitched six innings in their most recent starts, which would leave three innings too few if Miller and Kelly were on the same schedule.
They are one start behind.
But that means that the innings are fleeting for the Cardinals to make a commitment to the starter who will open the season in the rotation. (There is a flex day in the first week that allows for the Cardinals to skip the No. 5's turn in the rotation; he won't have to make a start until the first home stand of April.)
What the Cardinals want to see from both righties is improved consistency. They have had their solid outings this season. Kelly struggled with command early in spring and settled in his previous start. The Cardinals want to see him become more assertive with his sinker and adopt an approach for quicker, groundball-laden innings. Miller has had the better swing-and-miss stuff this spring, but has also tumbled into prolonged innings as his pitch count rises and he gropes for consistent use of his secondary pitches.
The club advertised last week's shared game as the last one they could schedule before having to commit to a fifth starter.
Then the club reconsidered.
Miller's start today is not to be viewed as an edge for the righty. Kelly has maintained an edge all spring because of his experience last season, though manager Mike Matheny recently recast that view as one that needed to also take into account "how they're pitching now."
Where they're pitching next will be the question after today's game.
The Cardinals could schedule a B-game to continue the process of keeping the two righties ready to start and on schedule to increase pitch counts. They could do that two more times before the end of spring training. Or, they could come out of today's game ready make the call and end what is one of the last remaining competitions in camp.
Here is the lineup that will back Miller:
1. Daniel Descalso, 2B
2. Matt Carpenter, 3B
3. Matt Holliday, LF
4. Allen Craig, 1B
5. Oscar Taveras, CF
6. Shane Robinson, RF
7. Pete Kozma, SS
8. Audry Perez, C
9. Shelby Miller, P
Check back throughout the day here at C-Beat and STLtoday.com for ongoing coverage and news from Jupiter. On Sunday, Team PD will present its season preview for the 2013 Major League Baseball season and Cardinals year ahead. It's coming out on March 24.
That gives you plenty of time to read the thousands and thousands of words of coverage that will be in there.