At the start of Spring Training, it wasn't even clear if Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller would be a part of the club's rotation.
As he prepares for his seventh start of the season on Friday night against the Rockies, Miller has turned into a vital part of the best rotation in the Major Leagues.
The 22-year-old enters Friday's series opener with a 4-2 record and a 1.96 ERA. He's allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his starts, including two or fewer in all but one of those six outings.
Despite being without one of its aces in Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals' starting rotation has tallied a Major League-best 2.29 ERA through the first 33 games. Miller, a key part of that success, credits the guidance of the other rotation members -- especially veterans Jake Westbrook, who picked up a no-decision in the Cards' 5-4 win over the Cubs on Wednesday, and Adam Wainwright -- for his immediate success.
"I'm in one of the best rotations in the league," Miller said. "I get to be around guys who have been around for a while. Waino, Westbrook, guys who've had more time. It's fun to be around guys like that."
Miller will square off against another veteran arm when Colorado sends Jon Garland to the hill for the opener. Pitching in his 13th season, Garland is off to a 3-2 start after missing all of last season and much of the 2011 campaign because of shoulder surgery.
While Garland looks to continue his impressive comeback with the Rockies, Miller simply hopes to keep pace with his fellow Cardinals starters.
"You just learn things every single day," Miller said. "We watch each others' [bullpen sessions], we watch each other work and it's just hands-on every single day. It's a blessing for me. Not every organization has that."
Rockies: Garland keeps giving Rox chance to win
• Garland lasted just five innings in his Saturday outing against the Rays -- his shortest of the season -- yet he still walked away with his third victory.
Signed by the Rockies on March 24, Garland has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all but one of his six starts this season. Garland tossed a season-high 93 pitches in his last start as he continues to work back from the shoulder problems that derailed the majority of his previous two seasons.
"He battled, got in some deep counts more than he's probably accustomed to," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "But like he can, he found a way through it. In the end, he did his job, giving us a chance to win, and I'm glad he ended up getting the 'W.' He fought hard for it."
• The Rockies went homerless in Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Yankees for the first time in six games. Still, Colorado has hit nine homers in its last six games.
Cardinals: Clutch hits carrying Cards
St. Louis' clutch hitting was on prime display in the Cardinals' 5-4 victory in their series finale in Chicago on Wednesday. The Cards went 3-for-5 with runners in scoring position, including recording the game-tying hit in the seventh and the go-ahead knock in the eighth, to raise their season average in those situations to .330.
Carlos Beltran's game-tying RBI single in the seventh also came with two outs, raising the Cards' season average with runners in scoring position and two outs to a blistering .357. Both of those marks led the Major Leagues through Thursday's afternoon action.
• Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has collected seven hits in nine career at-bats against Garland for a .778 career average against the righty.
• The Rockies have been 11-7 at home this year, but 8-8 on the road.