Surprise! Joe Kelly gets the Cardinals last rotation spot over Carlos Martinez

Posted by Scott Wuerz on March 23, 2014 

The St. Louis Cardinals somewhat unexpectedly -- and decidedly casually -- announced Sunday that Joe Kelly will earn the open spot in the club's starting rotation over Carlos Martinez.

It's a surprise because Martinez through four starts that covered 15 1/3 innings was 1-0 with a 1.76 ERA. He struck out 17 and walked three while allowing eight hits. Kelly is 2-1 but has a 6.28 ERA. In 14 2/3 innings Kelly allowed 15 hits and struck out 11 while walking 8.

If this was a level playing field, there would be a federal investigation about the miscarriage of justice suffered by Martinez.

I was so convinced that Martinez would make the starting rotation -- and that he'd be good in that role -- that I reached for him in a couple of my fantasy baseball leagues.

Still, while the numbers don't add up, that doesn't mean that the decision was a bad one.

First, Martinez is a younger player with fewer miles on his arm. Young pitchers can be fragile and it makes sense to build up his arm with a lighter load in the bullpen instead of putting him in the rotation at the start of the season and letting him rack up 200 or more innings.

Second, Kelly has earned a bit of a additional consideration because he has performed well in the Cardinals rotation over parts of two seasons. He's 13-9 with a 3.02 ERA as a starter in games that count. Last season he was 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA as a starter but was 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA as a reliever.

Finally, the Redbirds have some long-term roles to sort out. The eighth inning set-up job is in flux because former closer Jason Motte is on the road to recovery from Tommy John surgery a year ago and the club still holds out hope that Jaime Garcia come back to fight for his rotation slot. So the current assignments are probably only a temporary situation and it makes sense to go the safe route.

Martinez can be exposed to high-leverage, late game situations while keeping innings off his arm so he's ready if needed to start later in the year. And Kelly, who is versatile, can keep Garcia's seat warm until the Cardinals get some of their wounded players back.

The added benefit could be that Kelly could create some trade value for himself if Garcia comes back healthy and Martinez proves he is ready for the rotation by the time Motte gets back.

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