McClellan focused solely on winning 'pen job
Cards righty's job security may hinge on relief competition
JUPITER, Fla. -- For the first time in a long time, Kyle McClellan appears to have some sense of certainty. Only, the 27-year-old right-hander has been fooled by such peace of mind enough times before to know that it's still not wise to get too comfortable.
Just when he thought he could focus on competing for a relief role last spring, McClellan watched those plans dissolve upon Adam Wainwright's season-ending injury. By Opening Day, McClellan was a part of the Cardinals' rotation.
His roles shifted throughout the year and eventually led into an offseason defined by even more uncertainty. Hearing his name regularly tossed about in the rumor mill, McClellan prepared for the possibility of leaving a city that, since birth, he has called home.
No trade was ever consummated before Spring Training, and thus McClellan is here, prepared to focus only on what he knows he can control.
"We made it to Day 1," joked McClellan, who could actually now brag about still being in a Cardinals uniform three days into camp. "I'm sure all spring there's going to be talk, since we have six [relievers] for five spots. My job is to tune it out and come in and make sure that my name is in the discussion about being one of the guys going north."
McClellan's job security in St. Louis could be tied to the developments in that bullpen competition. As he noted, there are currently more candidates on the 40-man roster than there are spots for them in the Cardinals' 'pen. That battle will swell even more if someone like Scott Linebrink, a veteran righty who is in camp under a Minor League deal, carves his way onto the roster.
McClellan's salary ($2.5 million) and status (two years away from free agency) would make him the obvious candidate to again be shopped on the trade market should the Cardinals find out that they do, indeed, have a surplus of arms.
"That's the business side of it, where they think if they can find someone to do your job cheaper, they're going to do it," McClellan said. "In my mind, obviously this is the best situation for me being from St. Louis and playing in my hometown. But as long as I would have a job somewhere, I would be alright. If it happens, it happens. You can't control it, and you just have to go out and pitch and perform."
While others continue to discuss all possible scenarios, McClellan's eyes are singularly focused on winning a 'pen spot in St. Louis. He altered his offseason routine in response to a career-high innings count of 141 2/3 in 2011. Because of the workload, which was nearly double what McClellan threw in 2010, he pushed the start of his throwing program back two weeks this winter.
He also tailored his workouts to focus largely on shoulder exercises, a deliberate adjustment that would help his arm best recover. The results so far, McClellan said, are encouraging.
"My arm strength feels good," said McClellan, who threw another side session on Tuesday. "In the past, I'm trying to win a job in the rotation and had to come in ready to go. Now they know my situation and they want to take it easier."
McClellan clarified by noting that this doesn't mean he will be throwing fewer Grapefruit League innings than other relievers. Rather, he's just not ready to begin throwing those innings now, as he has been in the past. The focus isn't so much proving his ability this spring as it is building his arm up appropriately for Opening Day.
For now, the Cardinals intend to allow McClellan to settle into a bullpen role. He will likely make some two-inning appearances during Grapefruit League play, but McClellan will not log the innings he did last spring when he prepared as a starter.
McClellan, who made 17 starts and 26 relief appearances for St. Louis last year, would appear to be a strong candidate to fill a long-relief role in 2012. That is, of course, contingent on the certainty that he will still be here.
"Every year that goes by, you learn a little more about yourself," McClellan said. "You just have to make sure that you're able to go out there and compete and show guys that you're worth putting on the staff."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.