The Cardinals knew when they plotted out a 100-inning map for Alex Reyes in relief that it would need some deliberate action on their part to hit it. After all, only three National League pitchers since the turn of the 21st century have hit the century-mark while pitching exclusively out of the bullpen -- and none of them were tried-and-true closers.
Nights like Tuesday -- a two-inning effort from Reyes, in which he took the win in extras -- are how the Cardinals might reach that goal for their talented right-hander. They want to keep him fresh enough to be their closer -- a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities through an MLB-leading 17 games finished -- but they also want to be sure to build up his innings total with eyes toward a spot in the 2022 rotation.
“I don't feel like there's a push to get him to 100, but we want him to be able to get a certain amount of work in -- but also the balance in making sure he's healthy and feels good,” said manager Mike Shildt. “We're tracking where his innings are relative to the season and he's tracking in a good direction. But most importantly, he's healthy and we're putting him in spots that make the most sense.”
Tuesday was Reyes’ fourth multi-inning appearance of the season. He’s allowed only one hit combined (though one is also responsible for his only earned run on the season) while striking out 12 in such appearances, a season-high five of which came Tuesday.
Reyes’ history as a starter is what gives the Cardinals confidence for such situations, since he has enough pitches to give hitters different looks over multiple innings. One pitch in particular has elevated his game, though.
After conceding his second walk in the 11th on Tuesday, Reyes nodded affirmative six straight times at catcher Andrew Knizner putting down the sign for a slider.
Those six consecutive sliders are what cinched two consecutive strikeouts and a win in extra innings. Brewers hitters only made contact with one of them.
“You're sitting there as a hitter and you're facing a guy throwing 96 [mph]-plus with life on it, a really filthy slider and a really, really dirty changeup,” Shildt said Tuesday. “So you know, pick your poison.”
The Cardinals will be cautious and cognizant as they ride their unicorn of a pitcher through the season, preaching openness in Spring Training to the possibility of spot starts as the year progresses. The long hope for their former top pitching prospect has been the rotation, but Reyes is playing the role of the club’s most capable closer since Trevor Rosenthal.
So how does the man himself feel?
“I like starting. I like pitching,” Reyes said recently. “I like playing baseball. That’s not going to change, wherever it is.”
On the ’Tube
Thursday’s high-flying series finale between the Cardinals and Brewers -- featuring aces Jack Flaherty and Corbin Burnes facing off -- will be streamed exclusively on the MLB YouTube page. The game will feature commentary by MLB Network’s Scott Braun, Dan Plesac and Cardinals great Matt Holliday, while MLB.com’s Jon Morosi will report live from the ballpark.
Miles Mikolas worked through a 29-pitch, three-run first inning to toss four frames in his second rehab start with Triple-A Memphis, tossing 69 total pitches (47 for strikes) for five punchouts (and no walks) against the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate.
“Clearly, he was typical Miles, around and in the zone,” Shildt said.
Mikolas (right shoulder) is slated to pitch for Memphis again Sunday, eyeing a buildup to seven innings and 90 pitches. The Cardinals could return him from his rehab stint following his next outing, which would align him to return for the following weekend’s Cubs series, or give him one more rehab start. Mikolas told reporters after his first rehab start that he feels healthy and is focused on refining his feel for pitches, not having faced competition since the 2019 NLCS.
Around the horn
• The Cardinals are still deciding on a plan of treatment for Jordan Hicks (right elbow inflammation). They’ve weighed the possibility of an injection that could sideline him for four-plus weeks, but he remains in rest mode.
• Tyler O’Neill’s 11th-inning homer Tuesday was the 27th of his career -- surpassing Hall of Famer Larry Walker for the most among Canadian-born Cardinals. It was also O’Neill’s fifth homer in 56 at-bats since returning from the IL.
“The boys [Cards PR gurus Michael Whitty and Chris Tunno] were all telling me that I was one away,” O’Neill smiled. “It was good to get that one out of the way and now we can continue to roll.”