Thursday was the most consequential day in the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation derby since Chris Carpenter announced he wouldn't be pitching in 2013, and it had almost nothing to do with Joe Kelly's three-walk, two-run start against what's left of the Yankees. (To Future Redbirds's chagrin, it also had nothing to do with Seth Maness's three scoreless innings immediately afterward.) The big news: Trevor Rosenthal wouldn't be part of the competition. The medium-sized news: Michael Wacha wouldn't be, either.
As great as Wacha's been—11 strikeouts, one walk, and an unearned run in eight pretend innings—he was always somewhere between a long-shot and an exciting prospect sideshow. But the Trevor Rosenthal news instantly changes the complexion of both remaining pitching competitions; if he's not a contender for the major league rotation he's almost certainly a member of the major league bullpen.
With that in mind, it's time for a matched pair of narrative updates.
And then there were Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller. Joe Strauss's "informed speculation" on the matter is that Joe Kelly is in the lead, but until we learn who informed him and why he'd speculate in that direction I'm loath to read much into it.
As important as they both are to the Cardinals' immediate future, both of them combined have logged fewer spring innings than Michael Wacha, which is one of those handy reminders that Spring-Training-centered position battles aren't always won (or even fought) in Spring Training games.
Wherever this one is being fought, I think we'll end up learning about who's winning through still more informed speculation; unless Joe Kelly's five walks in four innings are hitting John Mozeliak as a particularly acute reminder of the command problems he had in the low minors, I'm not sure there's much either contestant can do in pretend-game action to make a difference.
Eventually, then, we'll hear about how excited John Mozeliak is re: Shelby Miller's return from his brief shut-down, or how confident he is in Joe Kelly's ability to start at a major league level, and then we'll know. If it's not Miller, I'll be interested to see whether the Cardinals see him as a bullpen candidate or someone who could stand to make a month of starts in Memphis.
Uninformed speculation, as of this moment, about the rest of the Cardinals' pitching staff:
This is not a great time to be Fernando Salas, who was the No. 1 right-hander in the bullpen in the middle of a World Series season a little less than two years ago. The Cardinals' relief corps isn't exactly shutdown—Edward Mujica will slip back toward his career numbers, and Mitchell Boggs could have the same season he did in 2012 and still add a run back to his ERA. But the usual carousel of cheap, potentially effective relief pitchers is stacked deeper than usual. And Randy Choate is under contract through 2015.
I'm still worried about Trevor Rosenthal settling in as an ace reliever before he gets a chance to fail as a starter, but the Cardinals' name-dropping of Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn in the decision seems like good news, and the depth in front of and behind him in the bullpen makes a midseason move to the rotation less painful than it might otherwise be.
Trevor Rosenthal might be the Cardinals' fifth-best starter, but he's definitely one of their seven best relief pitchers. This is probably the most efficient way for the Cardinals to allocate their pitching resources in 2013, and if it doesn't have an outsized effect the way they allocate them in 2014 it's good news.