The St. Louis native seems ready to break into the rotation for the Cardinals in 2010.

McClellan Takes Early Lead for Fifth Spot

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Kyle McClellan came into Spring Training in 2009 fighting for a spot. He didn’t know what his role would be; he just wanted to make the team. McClellan was viewed as a possible starter in case Chris Carpenter experienced a setback in his return from injury. But Carpenter was brilliant and McClellan’s role changed. He was headed for the bullpen. After a successful season in which he became a dependable setup man, McClellan is a candidate for the rotation again. This year, the race is wide open. He controls his own destiny.

McClellan spent the offseason making sure his destiny is what he wants. And he wants to be a starter. Most pitchers do. It gets the competitive juices flowing like nothing else: taking the ball from start to finish, controlling the game. McClellan has dropped 15 pounds, adding the strength and endurance needed to handle a starter’s workload. He started working out at the spring training facility well before others arrived this week. With such dedication, McClellan could be ready to make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation.

Hard work is not the only thing to like about this young kid. McClellan possesses a four-pitch repertoire that is needed to keep big-league hitters honest. Dave Duncan, the best pitching coach around, will certainly help him sharpen each pitch to be the best he can.

So, hard work, multiple pitches, and Duncan’s tutelage could all add up to the fifth spot in the St. Louis rotation. With Spring Training underway, Redbird nation will soon find out if he has the stuff to start. Early indications are that he does. He has impressed the coaching staff in workouts and bullpen sessions.

The competitors, Rich Hill and Jaime Garcia, each have more question marks surrounding them. Hill is rusty and has a history of injury problems to work through. Garcia may need more work – like McClellan last year – before he can take on a starting role.

That leaves McClellan as the leader right now. He is the healthiest and has experience with the big league club. He has also demonstrated a willingness to learn, a key for young guys. During the offseason, McClellan worked with Adam Wainwright to improve. He asked the accomplished pitcher countless questions about becoming a starter. Chris Carpenter is another positive influence that will rub off on McClellan and the others. Few pitchers are as competitive and intense as Carpenter, and that will drive the younger guys to bust it in Spring Training. Even newcomer Brad Penny can impart his knowledge after years of pitching on the big stage. And as noted earlier, Dave Duncan always makes an impact.

McClellan uses a fastball, curve, slider, and change. All of which have improved. The curve and slider give the hitters different eye levels for breaking pitches, and the change could be the key. Coming out of the bullpen, he only used it occasionally. As a starter, a change can make a pitcher great. Tim Lincecum throws different changeups that dip, dive, and cut across the plate – all making his heater more effective. Pedro Martinez also developed a change to go with his power game. The finesse pitch is one of the best ways to get hitters out today. If McClellan develops his own, he could be in the rotation for years to come.

For now, he is still fighting for a starting job, hoping to make an impact in 2010.  Tony La Russa thinks his top four are among the best in the game this season. A dependable fifth guy to keep the team in games would be icing on the cake for the Cards. McClellan has been Mr. Dependable in all of his roles because of his relentless work ethic. If he is the final piece, you can bet he’s going to go out and fight every fifth day for the hometown team. McClellan is from the great city of St. Louis, and no one is more proud to where the Cardinals uniform every day.

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