LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With Opening Day less than three weeks away, time is running out for pitchers Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller in their quest to secure the final spot in the Cardinals' rotation.
Fortunately, Thursday's game against the Braves in Jupiter figures to provide some clarity.
Both of the hopeful starters are scheduled to have a significant workload vs. Atlanta, with Kelly expected to get the start -- though general manager John Mozeliak said on Monday it wasn't important which one got the starting nod.
"It's conceivable that you'd want to see 55 pitches out of both of them, but I'm not going to do that if they throw 40 in the first inning, obviously," pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. "So it's all based on what it looks like Thursday and, from there, we'll evaluate and move forward."
To this point, Kelly and Miller have each made two spring appearances, and -- statistically -- it's hard to declare a clear front-runner. Kelly sports the better ERA (2.25 to Miller's 5.40 mark) and has limited opponents to a .143 average, but he has issued five free passes while striking out just one batter. Miller, meanwhile, has four strikeouts to just one walk.
Kelly brings more experience to the table, having made 24 appearances (16 starts) last season to Miller's six outings (one start). For now, the focus will be on what each pitcher brings to the table for the remainder of Spring Training -- and it starts Thursday.
"The obvious thing is, moving forward from here, we're running out of starts for guys," Lilliquist said. "They'll both get an opportunity to pitch Thursday, they'll both get an opportunity to get their work in, and we'll just keep evaluating and see what's best for the Cardinals."
Cardinals make trio of roster moves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cardinals further trimmed their roster following Tuesday's loss to the Braves, optioning pitcher Kevin Siegrist to Triple-A Memphis, reassigning pitcher Barret Browning to Memphis and reassigning catcher Cody Stanley to Double-A Springfield. With the three moves, there are now 48 players remaining in camp.
Of the three, Siegrist saw the most action, allowing two runs (one earned) over four innings while striking out five and walking four, in four appearances. The left-hander was dominant at Class A Palm Beach last season, going 6-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 10 starts before earning a promotion to Springfield, where he went 1-2 with a 3.62 ERA in eight appearances (five starts).
Browning, meanwhile, made just two appearances this spring, conceding three runs (two earned) on four hits in his two innings of work. Also a southpaw, Browning spent all of 2012 pitching out of the bullpen for Memphis, posting a 1.73 ERA over 35 appearances.
As for Stanley, who spent the majority of last season with Palm Beach, he managed one hit -- a triple -- in four at-bats this spring, while also driving in one run and drawing a walk. The backstop hit .280 in 45 games at Palm Beach last season after going 3-for-10 in his brief stint in the Rookie league.
Rzepczynski cleared, set for bullpen session
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Marc Rzepczynski wasted no time getting back to work after gaining clearance from an eye doctor on Monday.
Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said Rzepczynski, who suffered a freak eye injury while golfing last week, was scheduled to resume throwing in a side session Tuesday at the team complex in Jupiter. It's still unclear when Rzepczynski will make his next Grapefruit League appearance, as he's still awaiting medical clearance for game action.
"He's throwing that side today back at the complex," Lilliquist said, "and when we get the clearance from doctors that his vision is adequate enough to get in a game, we'll get him back in there."
In four spring appearances prior to the injury, Rzepczynski allowed three runs (one earned) while striking out three and walking none over four innings.
Injuries, Classic creating spring obstacles
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Between injuries and losing players to the World Baseball Classic, the Cardinals haven't had much of an opportunity to assemble an Opening Day-type lineup this spring.
Things seem to be looking up, though, with David Freese returning Monday after missing a week with a sore tailbone, reliever Fernando Salas back from the Classic and Matt Holliday (stomach flu) set to return as soon as Thursday. Even with those returns, the club is still without All-Stars Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina -- both of whom are playing for Puerto Rico in the Classic -- as well as reliever Mitchell Boggs (Team USA).
"It does in a sense [make it harder], but they are getting their work in, at least," pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. "But we get them back here and get to evaluate them out here in our games, which is good."
Luckily, with an extended Spring Training this year, the Cards will still have time to click before Opening Day once they have the whole team back together -- whenever that time finally comes.
"It's weird in spring, when we all come down here and try to come together as a team and some guys are missing," second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "But we've still got a couple weeks left here, and once we get everyone back here and get the team rolling together, we'll definitely be ready to go."