Preview: Kelly stakes claim to role as Cards’ 5th starter

The St. Louis Cardinals have fielded baseball’s best starting rotation this season. But ever since an injury in late May, they’ve been without a consistent fifth starter.

Saturday gives Joe Kelly a chance to stake his claim to that role.

Kelly makes his second start of the season Saturday as the Cardinals host the Miami Marlins.

St. Louis’ starters’ ERA of 3.22 is the best in baseball, with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Jake Westbrook combining for 35 of the club’s 51 victories. Jaime Garcia also accounted for five but was lost for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery May 24.

Since then, the fifth spot in the Cardinals’ rotation has been in flux. Because of a scheduling oddity – they’ve had three off-days over the last two weeks – they’ve been able to go without one.

Now that the schedule has caught back up with them, though, Kelly (0-3, 3.86 ERA), a second-year right-hander, steps in. He’s been primarily used as a long reliever this year, giving up one run over his last 13 innings.

He took the loss in his lone start, allowing two runs – one earned – over 5 2/3 innings in a 10-3 defeat to Arizona on June 5.

“I’m taking it as a regular day,” he told the team’s official website. “Especially if they need me to start again, my pitch count could be up near 100 pitches without being too gassed.”

Kelly, whose last appearance saw him throw 79 pitches in 5 1/3 innings of relief at Oakland on June 28, made 16 starts last year, going 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA. He didn’t record a decision in two against Miami, limiting the Marlins to two earned runs and seven hits over 12 innings.

The bullpen for the Cardinals (51-34) hasn’t been nearly as stingy as the rotation, but it bounced back nicely in Friday’s 4-1 win over Miami (32-53), which entered with wins in 10 of its last 13.

Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica followed Westbrook’s seven innings of one-run ball by each throwing a scoreless inning of relief. Mujica blew his first save a night earlier in the club’s 6-5 road loss to the Angels, but converted his 22nd save in his 23rd opportunity Friday.

“Everybody has bad days sometimes,” said Mujica, who owns a 2.55 ERA. “You try to get here and turn the page. I knew what I did, I made a couple mistakes, and I went right after them.”

Allen Craig is 19 for 44 (.432) with 15 RBIs over his last 13 games after going 1 for 3 Friday while driving in two runs.

Craig has never faced Miami starter Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 2.00), who has been solid since making his season debut June 18 after being sidelined by shoulder inflammation.

He threw six shutout innings despite not recording any strikeouts in his last outing, a 6-2 win over San Diego on Sunday.

“When I was attacking, they were putting the ball in play and the defense was there,” Eovaldi said.

Giancarlo Stanton has played in all 23 of the Marlins’ games since returning from a strained right hamstring June 10, but might receive a day off either Saturday or Sunday against St. Louis, manager Mike Redmond told the team’s official website. Redmond’s decision might be expedited considering the .244 hitter is 2 for 22 over his last six games.

Miami’s Logan Morrison homered for the second time in three games Friday and owns an OPS of 1.005 since making his season debut June 9.