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Rotation concerns after Miller's early exit

8/8/2013

Shelby Miller threw two pitches in his national TV start against the Dodgers, was struck with a line drive on his right elbow on the second pitch and left the game. If it was your first time to see Miller pitch other than in highlights, you missed an exciting young pitcher with a big fastball. His rookie season has exceeded any reasonable expectations as he has grown into the Cardinals' No. 2 starter behind Adam Wainwright.

He was diagnosed with a right elbow contusion, so presumably he'll be OK. As I write this, I won't speculate on whether he'll miss a start or not, but maybe missing a couple starts will be a blessing in disguise, as the Cardinals were already facing the dilemma of watching his innings in his rookie season, as Jerry Crasnick wrote on Wednesday.

Miller is already at 121 1/3 innings pitched, after totaling 150 1/3 IP last season between Triple-A and the majors. The Cardinals expected him to come in at around 175 innings -- with that total potentially affected by a deep October playoff run.

To complicate matters, the Cardinals are locked up with the Pirates in a tight race in the NL Central, making it a more difficult decision to back off on his innings. The Cardinals also have to be a little concerned about the state of the rotation behind Wainwright. No. 3 starter Lance Lynn is certainly a solid innings eater with 143 innings and a 3.78 ERA, although his 13-5 record is a product of good run support. Lynn also tired down the stretch last year in his first full year starting, concluding with two poor starts in the National League Championship Series, so that's worth monitoring.

Jake Westbrook and Joe Kelly have OK ERAs but poor peripherals. Westbrook entered in relief of Miller and the Dodgers pounded him for six runs in the second inning, raising his ERA to 4.11. Westbrook does get ground balls, but he has more walks than strikeouts on the season and that's a tough way to make a living. Kelly recently entered the rotation and has a 2.98 ERA, including 1.82 in six starts. He's relied on a lot of at-'em balls as a starter as he has just 18 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings. The results have been good so far but the deeper analysis suggest a pitcher living on the line.

The Cardinals do have other options in rookies Tyler Lyons, who may now get called up to start Thursday in place of Westbrook, or Michael Wacha, who was up earlier.

But this is a team that is heavily counting on Miller. The Cards will fall three games behind after Wednesday's results. They host the Pirates next week for three games, a chance for some revenge after losing four of five in Pittsburgh last week. Even if Miller misses that series, he'll get his opportunity to get after Andrew McCutchen & Co. -- the Cardinals and Pirates meet two more times after that series. But with the Pittsburgh rotation continuing to roll, the pressure is on the St. Louis rotation to match that production. Let's hope Miller is OK and back on the mound soon at 100 percent.