Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller fight St. Louis Cardinals rotation competition to stalemate—but is this Kelly's last chance?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller have fought to a stalemate in the St. Louis Cardinals' fifth-starter derby. But this could be the last, best chance Joe Kelly has.

Thursday was the last day of the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation contest (except now maybe it isn't?), and neither man took the opportunity to retire from pitching, or set himself on fire, or drive a steel chair into Mike Matheny's injured back and join the nWo. Which is to say that the game was necessarily anticlimactic; Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller weren't going to show us anything in one particular Grapefruit League game that they haven't in their professional careers to date.

For all that, Kelly did win, such as it was; walks were the only thing that jumped out of his spring so far, and he didn't allow any in his four innings. Meanwhile Miller allowed three runs in two-plus innings, striking out four but leaving with the bases loaded.

Meanwhile-meanwhile, Michael Wacha threw two more scoreless innings, striking out two. That makes 15 strikeouts, one walk, and one unearned run in 11.2 innings to date.

Wacha's not competing for the job this month, but his continued long-relief fireworks have left me thinking about just what this competition means for Joe Kelly. If he loses out to Shelby Miller, it could be that he never gets another shot in the Cardinals' rotation.

I don't mean to count prospects before they've hatched; we can safely assume that one of Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha will disappoint, and Kelly will likely remain the sixth starter while we're most worried about Jaime Garcia's shoulder. He's not exactly Brandon Dickson, in terms of job security.

But Joe Kelly pitched his way into a small window to begin with; if it weren't for Shelby Miller's slow start in Memphis he might never have gotten the call last year, and if it weren't for his impressive adequacy last year he wouldn't be in the picture this year. Unlike his competitors he's never even been a top prospect in the Cardinals' system, and like Rosenthal he makes a lot of emotional sense in the bullpen.

At 25, he's harder to figure out than his younger competitors-he's got a hard, moving fastball that he doesn't throw past anybody, and his minor league numbers suggested a much different pitcher than the one we had the pleasure of watching.

I've thought from the beginning that Shelby Miller makes more sense for the job, and I still do. But a weird variant of the Trevor Rosenthal problem seems to apply to Joe Kelly, too, even though we haven't seen him look like an elite reliever yet. If they don't take a look at him in the rotation in April, I'm not sure when else they'll get the chance to do it.

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