Thompson favorite for rotation spot

Thompson favorite for rotation spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- As the Cardinals set their rotation for the coming week of Spring Training games, they began to tip their hand regarding a regular season starting staff as well. In fact, according to pitching coach Dave Duncan, the season-opening alignment is already obvious "if you're paying attention."

A series of decisions and announcements on Friday made the club's plans significantly clearer, if not fully transparent just yet. The indicators suggest that Brad Thompson is the winner of the final spot in the competition for starting spots, beating out Anthony Reyes.

Following Kyle Lohse's start on Saturday, the Cardinals will start Todd Wellemeyer on Sunday against the Mets. It had been announced early on Friday that Wellemeyer and Reyes would both pitch Sunday, with one hurling in a Triple-A game, but that plan was scotched. Instead, Reyes will be bumped back to Tuesday, with Thompson starting on Monday.

Instead of sharing Wellemeyer's day, Reyes will pitch on the same day as Braden Looper. That's because Looper will pitch in the Minors in order to avoid having him face the Nationals twice in 10 days.

Manager Tony La Russa has confirmed that Adam Wainwright will pitch Opening Day, March 31 against Colorado, and that Looper's first regular-season outing will come on April 4 against Washington. Lohse sets up to go on Thursday, March 27 against the Marlins and then in the second regular-season game, April 2 against Colorado.

Wellemeyer's position has appeared secure for several days now, and following his Sunday start he would slot in on Friday, March 28 in Springfield and then Wednesday, April 3 against the Rockies.

That leaves only one spot, and Friday's maneuvering added a great deal of clarity to that decision. Whereas Reyes had been considered the favorite for much of camp, it now seems that things have changed. Thompson is going on his regular fifth day on Monday, five days after a fine outing against the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"I have no idea what they're thinking, what they're planning on doing," Thompson said. "Monday's my day as far as the five-day rotation, so we'll take it and run. I think that another start will definitely help me get in the groove of things. ... That will be nice this week, to be able to prepare for the next one. If I do end up winning that job, I'll definitely be ready to go."

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Even if Thompson wins out, he might be available in relief over the season's first few days. It's expected that Wainwright will pitch on four days' rest on April 5, so Thompson's first start would not come until Sunday, April 6. He would set up on turn to pitch in the second exhibition at Springfield, on March 29.

If Reyes does not win the final starting job, it has an effect elsewhere on the roster as well. Thompson would have gone to the bullpen if he were the odd man out in the starters derby, but the Cardinals do not view Reyes as a viable starting option. So one bullpen spot, which had been evidently earmarked for Thompson, will now be open. Kelvin Jimenez, Kyle McClellan, Cliff Politte and Chris Perez are the candidates for that spot or spots.

And then there's Reyes, who is not expected to be on the Opening Day roster if he is not in the Opening Day rotation. He could be optioned to Triple-A Memphis, or he could be traded. However, general manager John Mozeliak said on Thursday that he did not envision trading away a starter in the coming days.

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