McClellan, Hill, or Garcia for the Fifth Spot?


When the Cards arrived in Jupiter, there were few questions surrounding the NL Central favorites as a unit. Instead, the focus was on Mark McGwire. Now, that seems like ancient history. With that issue in the rearview mirror, more questions have come up this spring.

Will the bullpen get the job done? Is Albert Pujols’ back OK? What will the lineup look like? When will Shelby Miller be ready? Is Albert Pujols going to Philly in a blockbuster? (OK, the last one was for a laugh, but it did come up.)

The one question that the Cards had going into Spring Training was the fifth spot in the rotation. It was declared an open competition between Rich Hill and Kyle McClellan. As Spring Training comes to a close, an answer is imminent. Soon, St. Louis will decide who will take the mound every fifth day to keep momentum going for the big guns at the top.

Both Hill and McClellan will face the Orioles Wednesday, giving them the chance to make a final push for the job.

Jaime Garcia has made a late charge for the opening despite coming in as a long shot. McClellan has been the favorite, but the Cards could also use him to help out the thin bullpen. Hill would then slide into the rotation.

Let’s take a look at the candidates.

Kyle McClellan: He 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. McClellan also has big league experience with the Cards as a solid reliever last season. He has a good attitude and the drive to get the job done. Here is a more in-depth look at McClellan, who is also from St. Louis.

Spring Training Statistics:

Wins: 1   Losses: 1   ERA: 2.57   Games: 2   Games Started: 2

Innings Pitched: 7.0   Hits: 6   Runs: 3   Earned Runs: 2   Home Runs: 0

Walks: 4   Strikeouts: 6   Average: .240   WHIP: 1.43

Rich Hill: He is coming off injury and looking to find his second win. Earlier in his career, he experienced some success with the Cubs and Orioles before arm troubles failed him. Still, the talent is there and with some adjustments he can be an effective fifth starter. He is making some changes to his delivery based on advice from Dave Duncan to increase his consistency on the mound. Hill’s best pitch is his looping curveball that few pitchers in the game have. It sets up the rest of his pitches, which include a fastball and change. In the past he has had control problems with the fastball, leaving it up in the zone. If he can keep the ball down and roll some groundballs, he can recapture some of the magic from his previous stops. He could always fill in the bullpen to get more work before getting some spot starts later, too.

Spring Training Statistics:

Wins: 1   Losses: 1   ERA: 6.43   Games: 3   Games Started: 1

Innings Pitched: 7.0   Hits: 8   Runs: 5   Earned Runs: 5   Home Runs: 2

Walks: 6   Strikeouts: 7   Average: .276   WHIP: 2.00

The last time out together, McClellan and Hill combined for a 7-4 win. Both pitched well that day and they look to do the same Wednesday.

Jaime Garcia: Garcia has been impressive as of late. He has shown an ability to blow hitters away with his sinking fastball, curve, and change. Garcia went four innings, allowing one run on two hits in yesterday’s win over the Astros. He also had an outing earlier this spring in which he struck out seven in three innings. The young lefty looks sharp and some believe he could sneak into the fifth spot. He has 13 strikeouts in a little over 12 innings to go with a 1.42 ERA. Despite all this, I don’t think he should get the job. He has an injury history and little experience starting. Garcia didn’t even get a start this spring. And the mentality as a starter and reliever is totally different. He only threw 30-40 innings last year. How can he handle a full season in the big leagues if he could only throw 30 innings in the minors? The move doesn’t make sense for the Cardinals in 2010 or for Garcia’s development. If anything, I would keep him in the bullpen in St. Louis and hope he continues to develop. Let’s not get caught up in the moment and crown this kid based on Spring Training competition.

Spring Training Statistics:

Wins: 0   Losses: 0   ERA: 1.42   Games: 4   Games Started: 0

Innings Pitched: 12.2   Hits: 5   Runs: 2   Earned Runs: 2   Home Runs: 0

Walks: 5   Strikeouts: 13   Average: .119   WHIP: 0.79

I like McClellan right now with Hill getting work in Memphis before he gets some spot starts in St. Louis. Garcia is a good arm for the bullpen, but isn’t ready for a starting job. This isn’t a decision for the entire season. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Cards make a move in a trade or sign John Smoltz or Pedro Martinez for the second half of the year.

But right now, who do think should be the fifth starter for the Cards?