JUPITER, Fla. – Kyle McClellan says he is ready to become the fifth starter in the St. Louis rotation and maybe he's the favorite.
Manager Tony La Russa isn't ready to make that decision yet.
"The overriding part is that we want to have an effective starting rotation and an effective bullpen," La Russa said Friday. "You know the Giants won the World Series, it wasn't just because of their starters. They didn't give up anything when their relievers came into the game, which is true for all good clubs."
The Cardinals opened spring training with one of the strongest rotations in baseball. But on Thursday, the team said 20-game winner Adam Wainwright needed ligament replacement surgery on his pitching elbow and will miss the season.
McClellan is at the top of a list of seven pitchers who could fill Wainwright's spot. After entering previous camps prepared to battle for a rotation spot, McClellan came to Jupiter this year as a reliever.
"In this situation I'd like to start," McClellan said. "I feel like we are in a good spot in the bullpen. I've put my time in and learned a lot in the bullpen."
All 202 appearances in McClellan's three-year major league career have come in relief. McClellan finished 1-4 with a 2.27 ERA in 68 appearances last season.
"I'm on the starter's program anyway so that I can develop all four (pitches)," he said. 'If I come in and just throw an inning at a time I'm not going to get a chance to work on my secondary pitches."
Ryan Franklin is embedded as the closer, with Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs performing well last season in setup roles. McClellan brings versatility to the bullpen — one reason why La Russa is hesitant to move him.
"He's a real weapon because of his ability to get rights and lefts out, and pitch a little bit or a lot," La Russa said. "Take that weapon out of the bullpen, yes, we are in better shape because (Motte and Boggs) got some experience, but it's still a factor to consider — having a strong bullpen."
McClellan hasn't changed his routine much after learning of Wainwright's injury, though he did throw from the windup during Thursday's session.
"I was just paying attention to my surroundings," McClellan said. "It was something I thought I'd work on."
Should McClellan perform as expected over the next few weeks, pitching coach Dave Duncan would have little problem moving him from the bullpen into the rotation.
"I feel like the most important thing is your starting pitching and that you get your best five guys as starters and then you build your bullpen," Duncan said. "It's easier to get somebody who can do that job in the bullpen than it is to get somebody who can do that job as a starter, so that takes priority for me."