ST. LOUIS Cardinals pitcher Kyle McClellan doesnt know whats going to happen between now and the start of the season. Nobody does.
But after being left off the World Series roster and facing a logjam of right-handed relievers in the bullpen as Spring Training approaches, McClellan is hoping for one thing: to stay in St. Louis.
McClellan avoided arbitration with the Cardinals by signing a one-year deal for about 2.5 million last week. But that has done nothing to solidity his spot in a bullpen that appears to be overcrowded with right-handed options.
This is the best situation for me, McClellan said. To be here in St. Louis where I live and to play in this organization, theres nothing better. What happens in the future I dont know, but hopefully it is here in St. Louis.
The St. Louis native and Hazelwood West High School alum had an interesting 2011 to say the least, opening the year in the starting rotation when close friend Adam Wainwright went down with an elbow injury in spring training.
McClellan went 10-8 in 18 outings 17 of which were starts and one that was essentially a start when he entered in the first inning after a lengthy rain delay and posted a respectable 4.15 ERA before the club acquired starter Edwin Jackson at the trade deadline and moved the right-hander back to the bullpen.
The former reliever looked right at home in the bullpen, posting a 2.33 ERA in his first 13 appearances as he began to help stabilize what was an inconsistent bullpen for much of the season.
But as the innings began to mount, McClellans production began to drop. After passing his career high in innings for a season back in June, the unfamiliar workload began to catch up with him in September.
McClellan allowed 10 earned runs in 12 appearances over the final month of the season, appearing in six of the Cardinals eight losses in September. He gave up five home runs to just six strikeouts and had a 7.71 ERA.
The right-hander maintains he was not injured down the stretch, but instead just out of gas after throwing 141 23 innings almost exactly the same amount he threw in 2009 and 2010 combined.
There was no pain, McClellan said. I just didnt have anything left. I left everything out there, and it got to a point where are you costing your team a chance to win? There in Houston I had a talk with Tony (La Russa) and I said you might have better options because I need a few days because Ive been road hard this last month and the bullpen was rode hard, everybody.
I had more innings than I ever had and there were a couple points, the game against the Mets, I threw 40-something pitches and it just took me a long time to recover from that with what I had been through this season.
McClellans honesty with the Cardinals coaches and trainers kept him off the roster for the Division Series against the Phillies. After hoping a few days of rest would be all he needed, a disappointed McClellan was chosen over for an extra position player.
He was added to the roster for the NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers but appeared just once, when he gave up two hits and a run in a 9-6 loss in Game 1.
When the Cardinals advanced to the World Series, it was starter Jake Westbrook and not McClellan, who was given the final spot on the roster.
So here was the hometown boy, playing for the team he grew up rooting for, having to watch the World Series from the dugout after being left off the roster at arguably the biggest time of his career.
The end of the season was just tough because you put so much into it and this is what you play for, to get a chance in the postseason and to not have a chance to do it was tough, McClellan said. Was I happy that I wasnt on the roster? No, but nobody is. You want to contribute.
But like I said then, I felt like I put my piece in earlier in the season and contributed to a World Championship and nobody cheered harder than I did. I was pulling for everybody to do well and honestly, it was kind of nice waking up and not having any pressure. I didnt have to worry about blowing the game that night, just show up and cheer your teammates on.
But the way last year ended only fueled speculation about McClellans status for 2012. The Cardinal currently have six right-handed relievers Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and McClellan who all can make a strong case for a roster spot.
But unless the Cardinals go with an eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench, something that would seem unlikely, one of the six will either have to be demoted to the minor leagues or traded.
The likely trade candidates would appear to be McClellan or Boggs, who both might find more success elsewhere McClellan as a starter and Boggs as a closer.
McClellan has always wanted to be a starter and some teams might see him in that role after watching his success last year. And the Cardinals could look to give him that opportunity as a way to solve their numbers issue.
McClellan began throwing about 10 days ago and threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Tuesday. Recharged and ready to go, McClellan is hoping to stay with the Cardinals and prove he deserves a roster spot this time around.
My job is not to make up the roster, McClellan said. My job is to come in and get outs and thats what I plan on doing in spring. They are going to have some tough decisions to make and I guess thats our job to make it tough.
You dont want to make it easy on them and give them a reason to get rid of you, but I feel like I have a good track record and I feel like everybody knows what I am capable of doing, and I just have to come into spring and do that.
Pitchers and catchers report to the Cardinals Spring Training complex in Jupiter, Fla., on Feb. 18th.