JUPITER, Fla. -- Though the Cardinals don't officially commence Spring Training until manager Mike Matheny runs the team's first workouts for pitchers and catchers on Tuesday, the battle for the team's final rotation spots has already begun.
With Chris Carpenter's indefinite absence, the Cardinals have two rotation spots up for grabs and four candidates to select from. Lance Lynn, who has reported to camp significantly slimmed down, is on the inside track for one of those two jobs. Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal are expected to compete for the other.
"It's great," said Kelly, who threw a bullpen session on Monday morning. "If we all stick together, it will be fun to see what happens. I'm best friends with all these young guys. We push each other to make each other better."
The Cardinals' evaluation process of these young pitchers is multi-fold. The club will take into consideration what each of the three did in varying roles last year, which is one reason why Lynn, an 18-game winner in 2012, is in line to return to the rotation.
As for the other three, Kelly has the longest big league resume. Last season, he made 16 starts, 10 of which were quality starts, while logging 107 innings. Rosenthal shined in a bullpen role during his time with the Cardinals. Miller wasn't brought to the Majors until September, though he was especially impressive during the one start he made.
But the decision won't solely be based on the past, just as it won't be made exclusively on upside.
"I'm excited to watch them compete," Matheny said. "When you throw athletes into a situation like this and you put pressure on them, that's usually when they rise to the top."
That evaluation process, Matheny said, began the moment those young pitchers parked their cars and lugged their gear into the Spring Training clubhouse. Knowing that there is an advantage in being seen, each of the three also reported to camp earlier than required.
"Especially the young guys trying to make an impression – you're being evaluated every single second that you're here," Matheny said. "Somebody is looking."