JUPITER, Fla. -- Last year, Joe Kelly found himself summoned into manager Mike Matheny's office to find out that he had fallen short of Shelby Miller in his pursuit of a rotation spot. This year, he took a call from Matheny informing him otherwise.
Shortly after leaving the Cardinals' clubhouse on a day when he pitched five no-hit innings, Kelly learned on Sunday of the Cardinals' decision to employ him as a starter. It was welcome news to the right-hander, who was prepared to pitch in the bullpen, if need be, but clearly had a preference to start.
"I'm excited to be a starter," Kelly said. "I'm going to get mentally prepared to start, since I know what my role is going to be. I'll get mentally focused for the beginning of the season. Like I said [Sunday], the guys that start the season [in the rotation] are rarely the same guys that end the season [because of] injuries or not pitching well. I'm going to go out there and have to perform every single start."
Kelly will make his regular-season debut against the Pirates on April 5. In advance of that, the Cardinals will start him in their exhibition game in Memphis on Friday. The club has not yet announced who will oppose Kelly in that game.
With a strong start on Friday, Kelly can finish the spring on a high note. Over his last two outings (10 1/3 innings), he has allowed three runs on six hits and four walks while striking out eight. He continues to also refine a curveball that he believes will be a featured pitch in his repertoire.
"It's going to be big. It's going to be real big," Kelly said. "It's going to be a lot better for me than going out there and having two pretty good pitches. When you can throw three at any time, that can be huge."
Wacha tabbed to start home opener
JUPITER, Fla. -- The last time he was on the Busch Stadium mound, right-hander Michael Wacha was pitching the Cardinals into the World Series. His next start there will usher in the club's 2014 home schedule.
In announcing the Cardinals' plans to have Wacha pitch behind Adam Wainwright in Cincinnati next week, manager Mike Matheny confirmed that it will be Wacha who starts the club's home opener on April 7 against the Reds. It's an honor that Wacha said he is "excited about," but one that is not monopolizing his focus.
Wacha is scheduled to make one more spring start on Thursday and pitch on the road against the Reds on April 2, before the Cardinals' first homestand.
"It's definitely an honor," Wacha said. "Just like all the other starts last year, I'll just try not to let the moment get too big. [I'll] just concentrate on my first start, really, in Cincinnati. I'm going to take it one game at a time and not really look forward ahead of my first start."
"It's an honor," Matheny added, "but I don't think it needs to get in the way of what each of these guys needs to do and how they need to prepare."
This won't just be the first time Wacha pitches the home opener -- it will be the first time he's even been at Busch Stadium for one. Last year, Wacha opened the season in Triple-A. He earned his first big league call up in late May.
Because the Cardinals and Reds play six times in the first 10 days of the season, Wacha's first two starts will both be against Cincinnati. In his only start against the Reds last season, Wacha threw six scoreless innings, allowing three hits.
Miller finishes strong in final spring start
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny didn't see Shelby Miller at his sharpest in the right-hander's final Grapefruit League start on Monday afternoon against the Mets at Tradition Field. Miller didn't seem to have his best stuff, Matheny said, and he spent too much time working from behind in the count.
On the other hand, Matheny watched Miller improve as he went along, keeping St. Louis competitive in an eventual 5-3 loss.
"He's grown," Matheny said of the 23-year-old. "He continues to get better and he's still working on things, but it's a good sign that we've seen him very good, we've seen him fight, but he's generally gonna keep you in the game and that's just another sign of what he did today."
Miller's spring is now complete, with the exception of a simulated game he will throw against Minor Leaguers on Saturday to prepare for his first regular-season start. He gave up three runs on three hits, walked three and struck out four in five innings on Monday, leaving his ERA at 5.93. He threw 85 pitches, 51 for strikes.
"I wouldn't say I'm pleased," Miller said. "I had a lot of games that could have been different, but at the same time, I was working on stuff, working on a little bit of everything. It's still Spring Training, and we're still here for a reason. We don't go straight into the regular season for these reasons. There's things I need to work on, still need to work on, to continue to get better. But I feel like I've made strides every single start, and this one felt good."
Miller had surrendered a home run in each of his first three spring starts, accounting for almost all of the damage against him.
He kept the ball in the ballpark on Monday, but ran into a big inning anyways. He walked No. 9 hitter Ruben Tejada to begin the third, then couldn't field Eric Young Jr.'s bunt toward first base, leading to a single. Those runners came home on a double by Daniel Murphy, who scored on Curtis Granderson's sacrifice fly. It took right fielder Stephen Piscotty's leaping catch of Lucas Duda's deep drive to end the inning.
But Duda's flyout began a string of seven straight batters Miller retired to finish his day, including three strikeouts.
Miller will now stay at the team's complex in Jupiter, Fla., for his simulated game, which he says he'll approach the same as a normal game, looking to sharpen his command for the regular season. Although the Cardinals haven't revealed when Miller will start, he is expected to face the Pirates on April 4 in Pittsburgh. Miller posted a 5.32 ERA in four outings against the Bucs last season, then was passed over for a potential start against them in the National League Division Series.
"I need to redeem myself a little bit against them," Miller said. "I'll be ready for that one. I want to face them."
Martinez accepting of bullpen role
JUPITER, Fla. -- Admittedly "a little bit" disappointed not to be opening the season in the Cardinals' rotation, Carlos Martinez, though a translator, said on Monday that he intends "to take advantage of the opportunity" that the organization is offering him as a reliever.
Martinez's reaction came a day after manager Mike Matheny informed the 22-year-old right-hander of the organization's decision to assign Joe Kelly the final rotation spot. In turn, Martinez slides into the bullpen where he will be the team's primary eighth-inning setup man.
"I understand the responsibility that comes with that role, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to help the team," Martinez said, with front office employee Luis Morales translating. "I am just happy that I at least get the opportunity to be a part of the club."
Acceptance of his present assignment, though, has not squashed Martinez's aspirations of being a Major League starter. The Cardinals did not intend for it to, either. In delivering the news on Sunday, Matheny made it a point to tell Martinez that he, too, envisions Martinez eventually finding a place in the rotation.
"Whenever I get the opportunity," Martinez said, "I'll be ready for it."
For now, Martinez will lean on his setup experience from last October as he prepares to fill the same role again. He will start pitching in relief as early as Tuesday so that he can leave camp with at least one appearance out of the 'pen. It will be a chance for Martinez to put a cap on a spring in which he has pitched as well as anyone on the Cardinals' roster.
In what was advertised as a competition for the fifth rotation spot, Martinez allowed three runs on eight hits and three walks. He struck out nine.
"I never saw it as a competition," Martinez said. "I just saw it as the job I needed to do. That was what was asked of me to do. I felt that I did pretty good, but with the decision, I didn't have any control. I just wants to help the team."
• Following Monday's game, the Cardinals optioned outfielder Randal Grichuk to Triple-A Memphis, leaving 34 players in Major League camp, including six non-roster invitees. Grichuk, acquired from the Angels this offseason in the David Freese trade, went 9-for-37 (.243) this spring, with five doubles, a triple and 15 strikeouts.
• There were a few scary moments for the Cardinals during Monday's game, but they all looked worse than they appeared to be. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty and center fielder Peter Bourjos collided as Bourjos caught a fly ball hit by Travis d'Arnaud in the second inning. Both players later were hit by pitches, Piscotty on the back of his helmet -- fortunately, on an offspeed pitch -- and Bourjos on the right hand. After the game, both players said they were OK.
• Right-hander Keith Butler, a candidate for the final spot in the Cardinals' bullpen, gave up two hits, two walks and one run in one inning of work against the Mets. He struck out one but also tossed a wild pitch and allowed a stolen base.
"It wasn't his best outing," Matheny said. "He gave up a couple ground balls, but pretty hard hit and then got into bad counts and got out of it, but it really could have been a lot worse."
• Jamba Juice, The Fudgery and Majestic Athletic have been added to the growing list of tenants for the new Ballpark Village and will open this summer. The Ballpark Village will open to the public for the first time on Thursday with an opening ceremony, a VIP party and a free concert featuring Third Eye Blind.
• Miller will not join the Cardinals on their quick stop in Memphis on Friday, and will instead stay in Jupiter, Fla., so that he can pitch on Saturday in what will likely be a simulated game. Miller is then expected to make his first regular-season start on April 4 in Pittsburgh. That would line up Lance Lynn to fill the third spot in the Cardinals' rotation.
• Jon Jay did not travel with the club to Port St. Lucie on Monday so that he could remain in Jupiter and take several at-bats in a Minor League game. Those Minor League contests provide a controlled environment in which a player can bat leadoff each inning. It is the most efficient way for someone to accrue at-bats in one day.
• Jason Motte will throw another simulated game on Tuesday. Afterward, it will be determined if he can pitch in a Minor League game later this week.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.