Kyle McClellan to get first shot at replacing Wainwright

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When the Cardinals announced last week that right-hander Adam Wainwright was going to need Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, many assumed that a free agent starter would be brought in to replace the injured ace. Kevin Millwood is still on the market, as is Jeremy Bonderman.

But the Cardinals have insisted that they are going to try internal candidates first, and we might have just found our front-runner.

According to SI.com’s Jon Heyman, right-handed setup man Kyle McClellan is going to get first crack at the vacancy left by Wainwright’s injury.

McClellan, a 26-year-old St. Louis native, was drafted and brought up through the minors as a starter. The Cardinals moved him to the bullpen in 2008 and have kept him there since, but they’ve flirted with the idea of trying him in the rotation in recent years and that flirtation is now going to turn serious this spring.

He possesses a fastball that typically clocks in around 90-93 MPH, a cutter that checks in at 87 MPH, and a hard-breaking curve. He also throws a changeup. It’s a quality and almost starter-like arsenal of pitches.

McClellan posted a stellar 2.27 ERA over 68 appearances last season, striking out 60 batters and walking only 23 across 75.1 innings of relief work. If things don’t go well for him in the rotation, the Cardinals will probably turn to youngster Lance Lynn. Or maybe they’ll take another look at the free agent market.

Note: Matthew Leach of MLB.com and a couple of other local St. Louis guys had this story first.