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Lack of experience no factor for Cards' Miller

Righty stepping up in rotation key for NL Central-leading St. Louis

NEW YORK -- At the start of this season, Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller had just one career Major League start to his name. Yet after earning the fifth and final starting spot in the Cards' rotation out of Spring Training, Miller has quickly developed into one of St. Louis' most reliable starters.

With the Cards dealing with a rash of injuries, the 22-year-old also finds himself as the third-most experienced arm in the club's current starting rotation.

Chris Carpenter's timeline is a question mark, Jaime Garcia is expected to miss the entire season and Jake Westbrook has missed the last month while dealing with right elbow inflammation, though he is expected to return by the end of the week. In their absences, the Cards have called on rookies Michael Wacha, Tyler Lyons and John Gast -- all of whom made their big league debuts this season -- to fill the void.

"We've got young guys stepping in like Wacha and Lyons and Gast, and the list just seems to go on and on," said Miller, who stopped by the MLB Fan Cave on Tuesday to interact with fans prior his club's game against the Mets at Citi Field. "It just goes to show there's talent throughout the whole organization, but it's still tough losing a lot of the main guys."

Though it may be difficult in the clubhouse, the Cardinals have yet to show any signs of struggle on the field. St. Louis enters play Tuesday night with a Major League-best 41-22 record and leads the National League Central by 3 1/2 games over the Reds.

Not bad, considering the missing pieces in the rotation, as well as out of the bullpen. Along with the injured starters, the Cardinals are without closer Jason Motte, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery without throwing a pitch in 2013.

In all, the Cardinals have already had seven pitchers make their Major League debuts this season, easily the most for any one team. Those rookies have combined to go 8-3, and that's not even including the seven wins by Miller, who is also considered a rookie after making just six appearances (one start) in 2012.

"All those guys that are getting called up are here for a reason, they know what they need to do. The rookie staff that we have is really strong," Miller said. "They're all doing really well. We've got guys that are starting like Wacha and Lyons and guys in the bullpen have been a huge help, too. We're doing really well right now, and we're having a lot of fun."

On a staff full of rookies, Miller's 13 2/3 innings of regular-season work and 3 1/3 additional postseason frames in 2012 seem to be coming in handy. The righty is 7-3 and enters play Tuesday night with a 1.91 ERA, second-best in the NL behind the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (1.88).

Miller, who will take the mound on Wednesday against the Mets, has yet to allow more than three earned runs in any of his 12 starts this season. He's allowed zero runs in five of those outings, including his May 10 one-hitter in which he retired 27 straight batters after conceding a leadoff single to Colorado's Eric Young Jr.

On Tuesday, Miller was at the Fan Cave recreating the Sports Illustrated cover shoot from last month that featured Miller, Westbrook, Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn. Instead of posing with his teammates on Tuesday, Miller was taking replica cover photos with fans that had lined up outside the Cave.

As for the real cover, it was inspired by a 1968 SI cover that featured the Cardinals' Roger Maris, Tim McCarver, Bob Gibson, Mike Shannon and Lou Brock.

"The five guys that we had in the rotation in that picture, we're all great friends, great buddies. We all enjoy our time around each other, so we had a lot of fun doing the shoot and everything," Miller said. "But then afterward, you realize that there are guys that are Hall of Famers on that [original] cover and guys who can potentially be Hall of Famers on our cover, like Waino and Westbrook.

"It's cool just to be part of that and, being part of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, you're going to have guys like that around the clubhouse. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be on that cover."

It's one of St. Louis' staff aces not pictured on that SI cover, however, who has provided Miller with some of the best motivation this season. Carpenter is in the midst of a comeback attempt that seemed completely improbable in February, when the 38-year-old was shut down due to a continuing nerve issue that was considered potentially career-ending.

"That guy is truly an inspiration to a lot of guys on the team. He's out there fighting, trying to get back to pitching, because he knows he can help this team win," Miller said. "We see that going on, and it definitely helps push us to bring our best every day. And in the end, I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see him back out there pitching this year."

With or without Carpenter, the Cardinals seem to have assembled a worthy pitching staff. St. Louis enters play Tuesday night with a Major League-best 3.19 team ERA, a major reason for their league-best overall record.

"All together we're just trying to find ways to win games and [manager Mike Matheny] is throwing out the best guys to do that," Miller said. "It's working right now, and that's a result of a total team effort -- it's not just one or two guys. And that's just what it's going to take this season."

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.
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