Five unanswered questions as camp hits stretch run
Fifth-starter battle between Martinez, Kelly; last bullpen spot also to be determined
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals will be in Memphis a week from Friday to wrap up their preseason work with an exhibition game against their Triple-A affiliate. Manager Mike Matheny has said that he expects to settle all roster decisions before that barnstorming trip, which means that several questions will be answered within the next week.
And yes, even for the defending National League champions, there are still items to be sorted out.
Here is a look at five of those unanswered questions, most of which should be resolved within the final week of spring games. Should any still remain, they will be answered by the time Matheny writes out his Opening Day lineup in Cincinnati on March 31.
Who will be the fifth starter?
In a camp where competition has been mostly fabricated, this continues to be the most interesting battle. Though the Cardinals have not publicly named anyone to their rotation besides Adam Wainwright, that fifth starting job seems to be a two-way battle between Carlos Martinez and Joe Kelly. One will be in the rotation; the other will slide into a late-inning bullpen role.
Based solely on numbers, Martinez has so far had a stronger spring. In four starts (15 1/3 innings), he's scattered three runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out nine. Kelly will make his fourth appearance on Sunday, but he has given up eight runs on 13 hits and four walks in his first 9 1/3 innings. Kelly's last start, however, was as good as any from a Cardinals pitcher this spring.
Martinez could make another Grapefruit League start next week. Sunday will be Kelly's final Grapefruit League appearance. When the Cardinals make their decision, they won't just factor in who fits best into the rotation. The organization will also consider how the assignment affects the makeup of the bullpen.
Once the Cardinals finish filling their rotation, they will also have to set the order. Aside from Wainwright pitching the season opener, St. Louis has not announced the order of the starters who will follow.
Who will bat second in the lineup?
Matheny has not committed to a two-hole hitter yet and has left everyone guessing by rotating players in and out of that spot in the batting order all spring. Through 19 spring games, the Cardinals have had seven different players bat second. That includes Jhonny Peralta, Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos, all candidates to hit there during the season. Jon Jay and Yadier Molina, both of whom hit second at some point last season, have also batted there this spring.
While Matheny has not said who he'll bat second to open the season, he has laid out his criteria. It starts with on-base percentage, as the Cardinals want to fill that hole with someone who can get on base regularly in front of the heart of the order. Matheny has also said he is willing to be fluid with that spot and rotate players in and out depending on matchups.
Who will earn the final job in the bullpen?
Unofficially, it seems that the Cardinals have already solidified six of their seven bullpen jobs. Trevor Rosenthal will be the closer. Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate will provide a lefty look. Seth Maness will return, and Pat Neshek is on track to make the club after being a non-roster invite. His addition will require the Cardinals to make a roster move to clear room on the 40-man roster. The sixth spot will be filled by either Kelly or Martinez, whoever is left out of the rotation.
As for the seventh bullpen spot, the Cardinals have four other pitchers remaining in camp who are trying to lay claim to it. Sam Freeman would give the Cardinals a third lefty. Scott McGregor could be a long relief option, should the Cardinals feel they need one. Jorge Rondon and Keith Butler also remain in the mix. Rondon has not allowed a run in seven spring appearances.
Where will Pete Kozma land?
The team's starting shortstop in 2013, Kozma looks like he'll be squeezed out of a roster spot at least to start this season. What remains to be seen is whether the Cardinals retain Kozma as depth or deal him to add depth at another position. This is about the time each spring when a flurry of preseason moves start to be made as other clubs look to address areas of need.
If the Cardinals keep Kozma, he'll begin the season as the starting shortstop in Triple-A. The Cardinals certainly welcome the depth at that position, but also will listen to see if they can flip a player with no obvious fit for someone else. They will not, however, actively be trying to deal him.
Can the Cardinals stay healthy?
It has been a relatively healthy spring for the Cardinals, who expect to open the season with only two players -- Jason Motte and Jaime Garcia -- on the disabled list. That assignment is no surprise for Motte, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Garcia did have a shoulder setback early in camp but has at least resumed throwing. Both players are expected to be key contributors this season.
Otherwise, the Cardinals' injuries have been relatively minor. Rosenthal missed a week with a groin strain. Mark Ellis is expected back this weekend after nursing inflammation in his left knee. For a club that had a pitcher go down with a season-ending injury in each of the previous three Spring Trainings, the limited medical news has been a welcome change. The team has another week to keep healthy in order to avoid any last-minute roster changes.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.