Cardinals’ Opening Day Picture Getting Clearer

There were few major question marks coming into spring training this year. Primarily, the concerns were the middle infield and the fifth spot in the rotation. With just two weeks to go before “real baseball,” we’re beginning to get some answers.

Of course, the middle infield situation began to take shape with the news of Rafael Furcal’s season-ending Tommy John’s surgery. But, after the Cardinals quickly handed the starting role to Pete Kozma, the value RonnyCedenoof off-season signing Ronny Cedeno seemed doomed to decrease.

Yesterday, the Cardinals confirmed that suspicion by releasing the veteran infielder, thereby solidifying Kozma as the every day short stop and, likely, Daniel Descalso as the backup. From the sounds of things via Jenifer Langosch, Cedeno (somehow) didn’t see the news coming.

“It surprised me a little bit, but it’s part of baseball,” said Cedeno. “I don’t have control of that. I only have control of myself and can work hard. I think they were going in a different direction.”

Cedeno signed a one-year, $1.15 million contract with the Cardinals on Jan. 29. Because that salary was not fully guaranteed, the Cardinals are only obligated to pay just under one-quarter of it by releasing Cedeno before the start of the season. That puts the club on the hook for about $284,050.

The organization also felt it fair to send Cedeno out now so that he has an opportunity to seek employment elsewhere. The Cardinals did not offer Cedeno the option of accepting a Minor League assignment.

“I think as we were trying to put it all together, it wasn’t fair to drag him on,” manager Mike Matheny said. “This gives him an opportunity to still catch on with somebody else when it became apparent which direction we were going. We are just trying to do, one, what’s best for our club, and two, what’s right for the other guy.”

Cedeno hit just 9-for-31 in 16 games this spring. His release also clears a bench spot … dare we hope the new vacancy will be filled by Matt “Smash” Adams? (In case you’re wondering, I do. Yes. I do.)

The rotation picture is less clear. Last Thursday was built up to be the showdown between Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller. But, both candidates performed too well to provide a reason to choose one over the other. Not a bad problem to have, eh?

So, yesterday was deemed the real tie-break game. This time, the roles would be reversed: Miller would start, Kelly would relieve.

Miller, in true future star form, threw four scoreless innings with just 43 pitches — 31 of which were strikes. He surrendered one hit and one walk before handing the ball over to his BFF Joe.

After two quick innings on the mound, highlighted by two productive innings at the plate (a bunt single, a run scored, and a two-out RBI single), Kelly found himself in a bit of a jam. And, well, he couldn’t quite escape. Four runs on eight hits knocked Kelly from the game.

But, did it knock him out of the running for a rotation spot?

Well … Mike Matheny claims the spring numbers will tell the biggest story, so let’s have a look, shall we?

Miller Kelly 1 Miller Kelly 2

So. Does that answer your question?

Not exactly a shocking revelation, is it?

Each has surrendered 6 earned runs. Kelly hits bats more often, but that translates to groundouts quite regularly. Miller is a strikeout guy. Kelly is the more well-rounded athlete — his offensive contributions add intriguing value to his spot on the roster.

Kelly has the experience. Miller has the raw talent.

Have I mentioned I’m glad I’m not the one making this decision?

The question now is, have the powers that be seen enough? We’re closing in on crunch time …

Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.

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