VIERA, Fla. -- Facing a Nationals lineup loaded with regulars on Friday, right-hander Shelby Miller only strengthened the case he's building in his attempt to claim the final spot in the Cardinals' season-opening rotation.
The hardest hit ball off Miller was Danny Espinosa's double to lead off the first. Miller answered, though, by striking out Bryce Harper and retiring Ryan Zimmerman on a fly ball to strand Espinosa at third. Harper's at-bat featured 11 pitches, the last of which was a 95-mph high fastball that Harper swung through.
Miller then breezed through the second. A two-out triple that Harper bounced over the head of first baseman Allen Craig drove in the only two runs Miller allowed in his three-inning appearance.
"A year ago, I was pretty much intimidated by a team like that," Miller said. "I was younger and had no big league experience. My main goal was to go out there and control the game -- just work every pitch I had. I just feel stronger and that I have more confidence out there than I did last year."
The Cardinals appear willing to let the fifth-starter competition include at least another round between Joe Kelly and Miller, each of whom has made two Grapefruit League appearances.
"The deeper and deeper we go into spring, the more you're going to be concentrated on how you do on all things," Miller said. "I know it's getting down to the wire, where they have to make a decision for who the fifth starter is so they can start logging some innings. Right now, I'm just doing what they tell me to do, enjoying it, and hopefully I get more starts down the road."
How the Cardinals will continue to get the two pitchers their innings has not been clarified by the club. There is the possibility that both will start a game next week; or the innings could come by making a long relief appearance. As manager Mike Matheny emphasized again on Friday, it's not what role the innings come in, but simply that they come.
After straining to reach his expected velocity last year because of a less-than-ideal body composition, Miller has had no trouble building up his arm strength this spring. He's more composed, too, and has shown a willingness to throw his offspeed pitches in tricky spots.
It's all, the Cardinals believe, signs of a maturity pitcher.
"We've made no question about it that these guys are competing," Matheny said. "You put some pressure on him. A good lineup puts pressure on him. He's matured. He does have a better composure that he did at this time last year. I guess that's just a testimony to the work he's put in."
Adams remains part of Cards' immediate plans
VIERA, Fla. -- First baseman Matt Adams arrived at Spring Training with an understanding that the Cardinals' roster situation didn't shake out favorably for him. Allen Craig would be the team's starting first baseman again, leaving Adams to compete for a bench role.
The five-year contract that Craig agreed to on Friday doesn't change much for Adams. But it does again raise questions about how he fits into the club's long-term plans.
"That's really out of my hands," Adams said. "The thing that I can control is getting my work in and coming to the ballpark each day and wanting to learn and get better. Whatever they do with me -- whether it's send me to Triple-A, keep me with the Cardinals or whatever -- I'll be ready."
Barring injuries, Craig will stay at first base this season since Carlos Beltran returns to handle right field. Looking to 2014, there's a high probability that Oscar Taveras enters the picture. He would seem a natural fit to replace Beltran, whose contract ends after this season. That would put Craig at first again and keep Adams squeezed from the picture.
General manager John Mozeliak cautioned against connecting those dots already.
"I look at Craig as he gives you flexibility to play first or in the outfield," Mozeliak said. "I think what you're trying to do is secure offensive players and he gives you flexibility, which is nice. As far as Matt Adams is concerned, we're going to try and find ways to get him at-bats.
"I see [that] things happen in life and being prepared and having options makes a lot of sense. I'm not going to worry about next year. I'm going to worry about now."
Adams is 8-for-20 with two home runs and seven RBIs this spring.
Battling for reserve role, Robinson's been red hot
VIERA, Fla. -- Shane Robinson entered spring with an edge on the bench spot that the Cardinals plan to designate to a center fielder. He has only further solidified his claim to it with a terrific offensive showing early in Grapefruit League play.
With a 2-for-3 performance in Friday's 16-10 win, highlighted by a fifth-inning grand slam, Robinson became the team's Grapefruit League leader in home runs (three) and RBIs (11). He has tallied 13 hits, scored 11 runs and carries a .520 batting average.
"It's a pretty strong statement," manager Mike Matheny said. "[Hitting] .520 is good in T-ball. He's had a terrific spring so far and hopefully he keeps doing all the little things right."
Robinson credited "confidence and comfort" -- as well as a minor adjustment to shorten his swing -- for the quick offensive start. The challenge looming for Robinson if he makes the club, though, is finding a way to maintain his swing while playing a lot less regularly.
In a pinch-hit role last year, Robinson collected seven hits in 50 at-bats.
"I've been seeing the ball well lately and have been taking good swings," Robinson said. "Everything has been good so far. I'm just trying to stay simple and do the same things I've been doing."
Rzepczynski reportedly hit near eye by golf ball
VIERA, Fla. -- According to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cardinals reliever Marc Rzepczynski suffered an injury when a golf ball struck him near his left eye on Friday.
The lefty was listed to pitch for St. Louis on Saturday, but according to the Post-Dispatch, he will not make that appearance. Rzepczynski had just returned to the mound on Thursday after sitting out a week while nursing tightness in his left biceps.
The Cardinals have not stated how long this issue could sideline Rzepczynski, who is projected to be one of two lefties in the bullpen. Rzepczynski signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal this winter after becoming arbitration-eligible for the first time.
• Fernando Salas pitched a scoreless inning for Team Mexico in the club's opening game of the World Baseball Classic on Thursday. Salas inherited a one-run lead in the eighth and retired the side in order. He threw 16 pitches, eight for strikes. Mexico ended up losing to Team Italy when Sergio Romo blew a save opportunity an inning later.
• Allen Craig played three innings at first base on Friday. It was the first time Craig, whose five-year contract extension was announced just hours before the game, had played the field this spring. David Freese (sore tailbone) returned to the lineup as the designated hitter. It was the first game appearance for Freese since Monday.
• Matt Holliday remains stricken with a stomach virus, manager Mike Matheny said on Friday. Holliday was sent home from camp early on Thursday because of the issue.
• The Cardinals announced on Friday that Busch Stadium will again host a "Braggin' Rights" game between the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois. The game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT on April 2. Tickets for the baseball game are available at cardinals.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.