JUPITER, Fla. -- On a day that’s usually reserved for optimism throughout baseball -- especially within a Cardinals organization that fully expects to be a World Series contender -- there was a bit of concern mixed in to balance the ledger for the Redbirds.
Alex Reyes, the 2021 All-Star who ultimately lost his closer job and surrendered the walk-off home run in last fall’s playoff loss to the Dodgers, reported to Spring Training with soreness in his right shoulder. In what might go down as the first casualty of the 99-day lockout where teams and players were not allowed to communicate, Reyes said he is still dealing with shoulder soreness that bothered him late last season.
On a positive note, he said his pain is nowhere near as severe as the Tommy John and labrum injuries that repeatedly derailed his promising career years ago.
“It was a long offseason and I’m dealing with some stuff from last season,” said Reyes, who won’t throw in Spring Training until he is cleared of the soreness issues. “But hopefully nothing major and I’m feeling good. I’m just kind of checking off some boxes before some live throws.”
Reyes said his soreness issues came up during routine team physicals on Sunday and Monday, and he was held out of the first day of Spring Training throwing sessions. Reyes’ injury, combined with the absences of veteran catcher Yadier Molina (personal issues), lefty reliever Génesis Cabrera (travel issues) and closer Giovanny Gallegos (personal issues), were the only negatives on a day when many of the Cardinals talked about the lofty expectations for the season.
Reyes’ soreness, combined with the condensed Spring Training schedule, might undermine his wishes of moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation. He said he isn’t worried about the mild shoulder soreness, and he is confident that he will be back in time to push for a starting job.
He is hoping to crack a starting rotation that will include some combination of Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and free-agent signee Steven Matz.
“My mentality has always been to come to Spring Training and compete for a spot,” said Reyes, a starter early in his career. “That’s always been my goal, and that hasn’t changed.”
In what turned out to be his first full season of his five-year MLB career, Reyes started strong, but faded as the months wore on. He converted his first 20 save opportunities through June but showed signs of shakiness over the season’s second half. All five of his blown saves came from July on, and that ultimately led to him surrendering the closer position to Gallegos. His 10-8 record with a 3.24 ERA and 29 saves belied the frustration he felt at times while battling various highs and lows, and as it turns out, shoulder woes.
“All around, I feel like it was a positive season,” Reyes said. “We had a real good stretch there at the end. Unfortunately, my second half wasn’t as good as I would have liked, or anybody would have liked. But at the end of the day, it’s a new season and you turn the page. When you go into the offseason, you prepare for this one.”
Reyes said he attempted to build up his arm stamina throughout the offseason by playing catch on a regular basis. However, Reyes said he has yet to throw off a pitching mound -- something that he wanted to avoid because of the soreness in his throwing shoulder.
“I played catch pretty much most of the offseason,” Reyes said. “But, like I said, it was just kind of like soreness staying in there a little bit. But hopefully I’ll have worked through here in the next few days.”
Reyes said that despite his strong desires to be a starting pitcher, he is willing to fill whatever role the Cardinals need of him this season. With a shortened Spring Training, the Cardinals might need Reyes and Jordan Hicks -- another former closer who has wishes of being a starting pitcher -- to be long relievers to “piggyback” with starters who aren’t ready to throw 100 pitches early on.
“I want to be ready for my name to be called, wherever it is,” he said. “As a starter, that’s what I’d love. But, as a competitor, I want to help my team win wherever I can.”