It will take each of the three candidates throwing in actual exhibition games against actual opponents before the Cardinals expect one to separate himself and seize the most significant open job on the team’s roster.
The actual competition begins much earlier.

“I think it (started) as soon as they parked their car,” manager Mike Matheny said Monday morning, “and brought their gear in.”

The Cardinals hold their first official workout of spring training for pitchers and catchers this morning on their complex at Roger Dean Stadium. A relatively static offseason has left the club with a recognizable roster and few positions truly up for grabs during spring training.

Every major role on the team has an incumbent save one — the No. 5 starter. The Cardinals made decisions this offseason to create an opening so that one of several ascending, homegrown pitchers in the system could win a spot in the rotation.

It was originally billed as a contest pitting Lance Lynn, an All-Star last season, against three young lions — Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller. But the news last week that veteran Chris Carpenter is probably out for the season crystallized the competition. It’s hard to imagine Lynn not being in.

The three hotshots will jockey for the vacancy.

“It’s not completely level in the fact that Joe had quite a few quality starts, and it’s not completely level in the fact that we saw Trevor in some high-level situations do a great job out of the bullpen,” Matheny said. “Shelby is the guy we saw the least of, but we also saw some things that are very encouraging and we understand that there’s a high ceiling there with what he can do. Every day they get out they’re (being) evaluated. We have to evaluate not just on their individual performance but on what does this mean for our club. What makes our team better?”