ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' four-man rotation will come to a end Saturday when Joe Kelly steps into the fifth spot for his second start of the season, an afternoon contest against the Miami Marlins.
With three off-days in the last two weeks, the Cardinals were able to stick with just four starters -- Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn -- after rookie Tyler Lyons was optioned back to Triple-A Memphis. But when there was a start to be had, manager Mike Matheny said Kelly would get the call, and the 24-year-old right-hander will remain the fifth option in the rotation indefinitely. Kelly tossed 40-45 pitches in a bullpen session on Wednesday, but other than some minor changes to his lifting and conditioning regimen, he hasn't made many alterations to his routine.
"I'm taking it as a regular day," Kelly said. "Just pitching. Nothing to get too excited about or anything, but I'm excited to get back out there and start again."
Kelly started 16 games as a rookie last year, going 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA, but he has primarily been used as a long reliever this season. When a rainout knocked the rotation off track, Kelly made a spot start June 5, tossing a season-high 80 pitches. He allowed one earned run on four hits and one walk while striking out two in 5 2/3 innings.
While he has only logged one start this season, Kelly has received extended work on short notice in his last two outings, as Lyons and Miller ran into trouble early and were both pulled in the second inning. Kelly tossed 77 pitches in a scoreless five innings on June 21, and then threw 79 with one earned run, three hits and three walks on June 28. With an ability to stretch out for lengthy relief appearances and step in as a starter, Kelly has provided a versatile option out of the St. Louis 'pen.
"I take pride in knowing that I can fit different roles," Kelly said. "Especially if they need me to start again, my pitch count could be up near 100 pitches without being too gassed."
While Matheny hasn't committed to a long-term solution for the fifth spot in the rotation, if he performs well, Kelly could be in line for the job.
"There's always opportunity, but I'm just going to go out there and just compete my butt off," Kelly said. "Whatever happens, happens, and hopefully I'll come out on top [Saturday]."
Carp encouraged by extensive bullpen session
ST. LOUIS -- Describing his 106-pitch bullpen session on Friday as "definitely my best by far" since resuming a throwing program in May, Chris Carpenter is on track to face hitters in a simulated game at Busch Stadium on Wednesday. That would represent a tangible step forward in his progression and put him on track to begin his Minor League rehab assignment in about two weeks, barring any setback.
Carpenter wanted to test both his stamina and the crispness of his pitches in Friday's side session, which was the most extensive he's had throughout his rehab program. Afterward, Carpenter was encouraged by how strong he felt throughout the four simulated innings.
"It's been a constant battle of consistency over the last few weeks," Carpenter said, "but today was a good throw and something that we can definitely build on."
"He threw very well and was very sharp," added manager Mike Matheny, who was among those to watch Carpenter throw. "He seemed to throw just as good in the [final inning] as he did in the first. You could see the stamina is there and that he's in terrific shape."
General manager John Mozeliak said that after Carpenter throws a simulated game next week, he will head to Florida to throw a second simulated game. That would likely take place the following Monday during the Major League All-Star break. If all continues to go well, that would have Carpenter in line to then begin a Minor League rehab stint later that week.
The Cardinals still intend to build Carpenter up as a starter in case the club wants to use him as such. That would require using most or all of the 30-day maximum period for a rehab assignment.
"I imagine we're going to use a lot of it," Mozeliak said. "But it could depend upon what's going on here [with the Major League club] and how he's throwing."
Carpenter has not set a timetable for his return -- "It's still one throw at a time right now," he said -- but recent progress has him again optimistic that he will pitch in 2013. Of that intention, he said: "I think I've got a pretty good shot."
Not only will he continue to monitor his improving arm strength, but Carpenter is also moving through this process aware that he has a back issue to maintain. Carpenter had to briefly shut down last month due to recurring back pain that stems from an injury he first suffered while lifting weights in January. This is an issue separate of thoracic outlet syndrome, which halted Carpenter's throwing program in February.
Carpenter has been told that he is not dealing with a herniated disc, but rather that there is ligament damage around a disc. Too much strain could risk further damage.
"It's something that we have to make sure we continue to keep sound, because that's what's leading to a lot of the issues that are going on," Carpenter said. "We are really concentrating to make sure the stability and strength around my low back has been good. And any sign that it starts getting out of whack, we back off and make sure we control it before I do something where it does turn into something severe."
GM Mozeliak offers take on Cards' recent dip
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals returned to Busch Stadium on Friday having lost eight of their last 11 and without a series win in their last four played.
General manager John Mozeliak was not on the Cardinals' recent three-city swing through Houston, Oakland and Anaheim, instead spending much of the time on a preplanned trip to see several of the organization's Minor League affiliates. He did, however, keep a pulse on the club from afar, and on Friday, offered his thoughts on the team's recent dip in results.
"As you look at what has transpired over the last 10 days, no doubt the expectations are higher," Mozeliak said. "Our starting pitching hasn't been as good. Our bullpen has been really solid, and I think last night's game [in which Edward Mujica suffered his first blown save] is something that's going to happen over the course of the season.
"Obviously, we've had some opportunities that we haven't been able to seize or take advantage of. Clearly, starting now until the All-Star break, I would like to see us end the first half on a positive note."
Mozeliak emphasized that the issues exposed over the past two weeks do not stand out to him as glaring long-term problems. Asked if the recent stretch has helped clarify what the Cardinals' biggest priorities should be with the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, Mozleiak said: "It could be a signal, but I don't think it's screaming anything."
As for Mozeliak's desire to see an upswing in results leading into to the mid-season break, the Cardinals' schedule would seem favorable for such. Beginning with Friday's game against the Marlins, the Cards will finish the first half against three teams with a combined winning percentage of .391.
• Triple-A outfielder Oscar Taveras (right ankle sprain) has moved his rehab program down to Florida, where he can get supervision at the Cardinals' complex in Jupiter. The Cardinals do not know how much longer Taveras will remain on the disabled list, though the lingering ankle issue could affect his ability to participate in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on July 14.
• Matheny planned in advance to give Carlos Beltran the day off on Friday after sensing that his right fielder "was getting a little worn out." Beltran, who went 10-for-32 on the road trip, had started 16 straight games before Friday's break.
• The Cardinals have an opportunity to use Monday's off-day to tweak their rotation and get Adam Wainwright two more starts before the All-Star break. Doing so, however, would require that Wainwright pitch on Sunday, July 14, two days before the Midsummer Classic. Pitching that day would then preclude him from being available to pitch in the All-Star Game. Matheny said a decision has not yet been made on how the Cardinals will line up their rotation for the final week of the first half.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.