McClellan, whose four-pitch arsenal has long led to speculation he might return to starting one day, is very much in the mix to do so this spring, assuming the Cardinals don't sign a veteran starter. He's keeping his comments to the media about the topic guarded. But to his teammates, it's no secret. McClellan wants to start.
"Oh yeah," said Adam Wainwright. "He's called me numerous times to figure out what he exactly needs to do to prepare. He's talked to [pitching coach] Dave Duncan a lot, and [manager Tony La Russa], so I know he's excited for the chance."
There's little doubt that the possibility of a change in roles for McClellan has more momentum than it had before. St. Louis has a number of intriguing young pitchers who could slide into McClellan's bullpen role, including Mitchell Boggs and Blake Hawksworth. And the club is hesitant to commit a starting spot to Jaime Garcia, who pitched very little last year as he returned from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.
Thus attention turns to McClellan, who was a starter early in his professional career before getting hurt himself. He switched to relief, and in that role he shot through the Minor Leagues.
"I'm not going to say I'd rather [start]," McClellan said. "The way I look at it is, I'm going to go in and prove to them that I can pitch in the rotation and I can pitch in the bullpen, and let them determine where they think I'm going to best help this team. But if I go in and I don't pitch well in the rotation, I feel like I'm not doing my job of giving them the choice to give them a little bit of flexibility."
McClellan intrigues the coaching staff, thanks in large part to that varied assortment of pitches. Whereas Boggs relies on two pitches for the most part, McClellan throws four. So Boggs may find himself with a greater bullpen role this year, while McClellan may be headed to the rotation.
"We have a solid four, and the fifth guy is to be determined," La Russa said. "If it doesn't come from a trade or free agency, you look at the guys that you would consider, and Kyle has the equipment to do it."
Wainwright, who throws four quality pitches himself, agrees with that assessment.
"His repertoire is kind of like mine," Wainwright said. "He's got the work ethic. He's put the time in. He looks good, he's lost some weight. He looks like he's in the best shape he's ever been in. I know he's ready to try it. He's champing at the bit."
McClellan said that he's lost about 15 pounds over the winter, focusing on portion control and plenty of workouts. He's trying to build up his endurance as he faces the possibility of more than doubling his Major League season-high in innings pitched. McClellan tossed 75 2/3 innings as a rookie in 2008, then 66 2/3 innings in '09.
He certainly has a fallback. If he doesn't crack the starting five, there's a place for him in the bullpen. But he'd at least like to make it a difficult decision. He'll prepare to start, and if it doesn't happen, make the transition back to the role he's had the past two years.
"I'll take that mindset and physically be ready for that," McClellan said. "It's always easier to cut down and throw one inning than it is to throw one inning and then all of a sudden have to throw seven. So I'll take that mindset and go from there."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.