Shelby Miller is the St. Louis Cardinals' fifth starter, but can he replace... Kyle Lohse?

USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals have made a choice in their never-ending rotation contest. What does this mean?

Shelby Miller is the St. Louis Cardinals' fifth starter—which, in the wake of Jason Motte's injury, means Joe Kelly will be their seventh reliever. This seems right to me; for one thing, I can't imagine the Cardinals ever putting Miller into a real bullpen role, while Kelly could certainly end up there.

For another: Miller is the Cardinals' best bet at making up the value they've lost from Kyle Lohse's career year in 2012.

This is an important thing to remember, now that we don't have to talk about Kyle Lohse and the qualifying offer anymore: Regardless of how unlikely his season was in 2012, and how average he'll be in 2013, Lohse was really good in 2012. Okay, okay—he got really good results, at least. In 211 innings he allowed 25 earned runs fewer than a league-average starter would have allowed.

Since Adam Wainwright allowed 15 or so more than his xFIP would have predicted, the Cardinals gave some of that good fortune right back. But the Cardinals' fifth starter is really the starter the Cardinals believed would do a better Kyle Lohse impression than Kyle Lohse.

And as sad as I was to see Chris Carpenter's arm falter again, I think Shelby Miller's always been the right player for that role. His sudden run of impeccable command at the end of the minor league season means that his strikeout and walk-percentage (26.7% and 7.4%) were actually better than he managed in his more attractive run in AA, leaving an absurdly high home run rate at the only reminder of his awful start in Memphis.

What's left is a pitcher whose status in top-prospect lists rightly went up at season's end, despite unanimously losing the No. 1 spot in his own team's system. Shelby Miller's another year older, and still young enough that getting older without wrecking his elbow is a positive sign. He mastered the Pacific Coast League, eventually. He showed three useful pitches in a successful September call-up.

That was everything he was supposed to do last year. He was just supposed to get started earlier.

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Joe Kelly's near future with the team remains a really interesting question. I'm sure the team imagines him to be a long reliever right now, but I'm always skeptical of how much use a long reliever can get in a 12-man pitching staff. I'm also optimistic about what his high-90s fastball will look like when he's throwing it even-higher-90s out of the bullpen.

But Jaime Garcia's health remains concerning enough that the sixth-starter job is at least as important as the long-reliever job. Does Kelly have it? Or does he sneak past Salas (and potentially even Mujica) to become a de facto set-up man, whereupon the job falls to Michael Wacha in Memphis?

We've talked about this before, but this is probably the year where Joe Kelly's role on a completely healthy Cardinals team finally becomes apparent.

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