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Mailbag: How will the staff shake out?

Mailbag: How will the pitching staff shake out?

Spring Training is, remarkably, more than half over, and Opening Day is in sight. Naturally, one topic on fans' minds is the Cardinals' pitching staff, but spring also brings out questions about prospects, so we'll cover a couple of those as well.

As always, if you have a question, use the link below to submit it -- and please be sure to include your first name, last initial and hometown. If you send a regular e-mail, rather than using the form, be certain to use the word "mailbag" in the subject header -- otherwise your mail may be directed to the spam folder, or otherwise ignored in an unbecoming manner.

With Pearl Jam's July 9, 2003, show at Madison Square Garden playing on the iPod, and the sun setting over Roger Dean Stadium, let's get on with the questions.

With Josh Kinney gone for the season, how do you think the bullpen will play out? Is it possible that the Cardinals will carry three lefties? Are Troy Cate and Randy Keisler possible options?
-- Boyd C., St. Louis

With Josh Kinney now out for the year, and with a question mark in the fifth spot in the rotation, what are the chances of Randy Keisler making the team out of Spring Training? If he keeps up his strong performance, is there a chance he can bump Looper out of that fifth spot in the rotation? Or are the Cards more likely to send him to Memphis and keep one of their younger prospects in the big leagues like Blake Hawksworth, Brian Falkenborg or Chris Narveson? ?
-- Jamie S., Vancouver, Wash.

Kinney's loss obviously raises a lot of questions regarding the bullpen. And given the makeup of the 2007 Cardinals, that also means questions about the rotation. So let's take a look at it.

As of right now, it appears that the five favorites for the rotation remain Chris Carpenter, Kip Wells, Adam Wainwright, Anthony Reyes and the aforementioned Looper. It's less likely all the time that Looper will be returned to the bullpen, and there's pretty much no way Wainwright will be.

If that remains the case, then the guess is that your eighth-inning guy is none other than Brad Thompson, who has pitched as well as anybody this spring.

It's certainly possible that the Cards will carry three lefties, but Cate was sent out Monday. Keisler is viewed by the staff as a starter, so if he makes it to Memphis without being claimed, he's probably going to start there. He makes a nice insurance policy.

Hawksworth likewise will almost certainly head to the Minors so he can keep getting innings. But he's been impressive. Two names to keep an eye on are Falkenborg and a much longer shot, Dennis Dove.

Have a question about the Cardinals?
Jenifer LangoschE-mail your query to MLB.com Cardinals beat reporter Jenifer Langosch for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
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Question:

Whenever Brad Thompson is mentioned as a potential starting pitcher, his size is referenced as a reason for not putting him in the rotation. I don't understand that statement. Brad pitched a large number of innings in the Minor Leagues, as I understand. Brad is bigger than Greg Maddux, and everyone knows how durable Greg has been over the years. There are several other pitchers who are of similar size who have been very successful over the years.
-- Mark, Forsyth, Ill.

For what it's worth, Thompson's stature in itself has never been a major factor in the team's decisions. They were pleased that he showed up a little slimmer in camp this year, though. He believes his conditioning is better suited to hold up to a lot of innings. Thompson's 99 1/3 innings last year were his high in pro ball, so it's fair to wonder how he would hold up under a full season of starting.

Beyond that, though, was the issue of the way he pitched. He seemed at times like too much of a one-pitch pitcher. This year, though, he's showing a quality slider, and his changeup continues to improve. Thompson's arsenal now looks more like a starter's.

Now that the Cardinals' rotation is nearly complete, whom do they have to go to if someone on the rotation gets injured? Do the Cards have any go-to guys from the Minors that can handle that kind of call-up and on such short notice?
-- Tom G., Ballwin, Mo.

As mentioned above, Keisler could be one such guy, and so could Narveson if he doesn't make the team and clears waivers. But if you're looking longer down the road, Hawksworth's name is definitely one to keep on the radar. He has a good arm, is learning as a pitcher and will probably start the year at Memphis. He could position himself to be this year's equivalent of Danny Haren or Reyes in previous years. Not to suggest that he's necessarily going to have the success of a guy like Haren, but he could be that midseason callup if things break his way.

At Palm Beach last year, the Cardinals had a reliever named Mike Sillman. He was the class of the league, but he never moved up and I've heard no mention of him by anyone in Cardinals organization. Why not? On their Web site last year, the Palm Beach Cards had a poll in which over 3,500 fans voted for the most likely player to reach the Majors. Sillman got all but about 60 votes. I followed him closely and he was lights-out most every time he appeared.
-- Fred B., Aiken, S.C.

I can't speak for anyone in the organization, but Sillman was pretty impressive when he was in camp this year. He'll probably start at Double-A Springfield, and he'll have the chance to move up. It's very tough to project how relievers will develop -- remember guys like Jimmy Journell, Carmen Cali and Mike Crudale, who never really blossomed. But Sillman showed some great signs last year, ratcheting up his already absurdly high strikeout rate while also cutting the walks. He may well have a future.

My question is about Ricardo Rincon. It seems everybody forgot about him. Do you think that he will come back from surgery and play a big part in our bullpen this year?
-- Geoff, Crestwood, Mo.

First, a big hello to Crestwood, which is right down the road from where I make my home. But as for your question, Rincon has done everything right this spring. He's had one quick inning after another, to the point where it's almost been tough to evaluate him because he's thrown so few pitches.

Rincon has pitched well enough that he should either crack the Opening Day roster or be tradeable if the Cardinals decide they'd rather keep Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson but not Rincon.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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