Miller, Kelly still battling for fifth-starter job
JUPITER, Fla. -- There may not have been a resolution in the competition for the Cardinals' fifth rotation spot -- a competition that manager Mike Matheny indicated will last for a while longer -- but both Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly used their respective outings on Thursday to further mold their identities.
Miller was as effective and efficient, as he's been all spring, throwing 43 pitches (31 strikes) in four scoreless innings. He ended his outing by retiring 11 straight Marlins hitters and had to throw 20 extra pitches off the bullpen mound in order to get enough work in for the day.
Though Miller has been sharp throughout spring, he believes that the recent identification that he was tipping some pitches helped his progress. To address the issue, which pitching coach Derek Lilliquist brought to his attention, Miller deliberately held his glove closer to chest when starting his motion.
"It feels more natural anyways, and there is less room for error," Miller said. "I'm not going to give it 100 percent to why I threw good today, but it definitely felt a lot smoother and I worked the plate good. I felt a lot better than last time. I was keeping my fastball down."
Kelly's shift was much more substantial, as it constituted a change in style. At the Cardinals' urging, Kelly is making a focused attempt at becoming a sinkerball pitcher, not a power pitcher. In other words, instead of trying to use his velocity to collect strikeouts, Kelly wants to induce early contact on his sinker.
He successfully induced plenty of ground balls on Tuesday, though several found holes. Kelly allowed six hits in the seventh inning, which led to four runs.
"With that kind of style of pitching, you're either going to go deep in the ballgame quick getting grounders, or sometimes they're going to go through because you're pitching to contact there," Kelly said.
Matheny, in trying to sway Kelly to use his pitches in such a way, shared with him the evolution of Jason Marquis, who, after getting past his own stubbornness, adopted the suggestion from pitching coach Dave Duncan to transform himself from a power pitcher to a pitch-to-contact one after being traded to St. Louis.
"[Duncan] got him to believe that there is a beauty to pitching to contact and being an efficient ground-ball pitcher," Matheny said. "The next thing you know, 10 years later, the guy is still throwing sinkers.
"I think Joe has to figure that out for himself. If he doesn't buy into it, we're all wasting our time. But I believe him to be a sinkerball pitcher. He believes him to be a sinkerball pitcher."
As for a winner in this ongoing rotation competition, there isn't an announcement yet. Matheny noted that it's likely both young right-handers will pitch again before a decision is made.
"Throw them back out there when we can, and watch them continue to pitch," Matheny said. "That's really where we are. You guys [the media] don't like that answer. Our fans probably don't like that answer. I, personally, am OK with it because it means that we have a couple of guys throwing the ball real well. What we do is we continue to put them out there. They're both getting better with every opportunity. It's not hurting us as a club to continue to give them opportunity to help get their pitch count up."