ST. LOUIS -- Top Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes cleared another hurdle in his recovery from Tommy John surgery on Friday, completing his final scheduled outing at extended spring training. The club plans to move Reyes to an official rehab assignment next week, marking the righty's first professional game action in more than 19 months.
Reyes threw three innings in a backfield appearance Friday, reportedly reaching 98 mph with his fastball. The club's No.1 prospect (No. 17 overall), per MLB Pipeline, Reyes underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in February 2017.
He is eligible to return from the 60-day disabled list May 28.
"He's ready to start playing in games that matter, preferably with some fans in the stands and with some competition," Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch said. "So this is a good step for him."
The next step will be a rehab start at Class A [Advanced] Palm Beach, "then we'll move him up the ladder," Girsch said.
That could mean as many as four rehab starts before Reyes is eligible to return, during which his workload will be carefully monitored.
Reyes will be limited to between 50-70 pitches in his first start. His workload will increase from there.
"He's built up pretty well," Girsch said. "The most important thing is that he feels good, and that he's vintage Reyes."
Club officials expect Reyes to contribute at the Major League level upon his return. In what role remains to be seen. The Cardinals have been searching for bullpen arms that can provide high-quality length, but they view Reyes long-term as a starter and will prepare him as such. They also must consider the career high of 110 innings Reyes set in 2016, the year he debuted with a stellar live-game cameo at the Major League level.
He went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine, excelling as a 21-year-old in both starting and relief roles.
Two relievers activated
The near-constant roster churn focused on the Cardinals' bullpen in recent weeks may now begin to subside -- at least for the short-term -- with Friday's return of two key relievers.
Right-hander Sam Tuivailala and left-hander Ryan Sherriff were both activated from the disabled list prior to Friday's series opener against the Cubs. Tuivailala missed more than three weeks with a left knee strain, while Sherriff missed a month after a comebacker fractured his right big toe.
Luke Voit and left-hander Austin Gomber were optioned to Triple-A Memphis in corresponding moves. Neither appeared in game action following recent promotions, both part of a dizzying week of transactions over which the club attempted to maximize the value of its final two roster spots by routinely shuttling players to and from Memphis.
Sherriff replaces Gomber as the second southpaw in the bullpen after Tyler Lyons, and he represents more of a specialist option. A one-inning reliever for most of his big league career, Tuivailala was asked to stretch to two innings in his final rehab appearance at Memphis. The club hopes he'll be able to provide the type of length it has consistently mined its 40-man roster for in recent weeks -- innings that John Gant, John Brebbia and Mike Mayers have been summoned to insure.
Drafted as a starter but groomed mostly as a one-inning reliever, Tuivailala thew a career-high three emergency innings in a game last August. But the bulk of his workload has come in shorter stints. He's pitched either one or two innings in every other of his 274 career professional appearances.
"It will be a challenge for me, but I like challenges," Tuivailala said. "I have to prepare the same way as if I was doing a 1-inning [outing]. Mentally and physically, I have to do whatever I was doing, and go until I can't, basically. That's my mindset. Give it 110 percent whether its one inning or three."
Gant to start Tuesday
Due to a plentiful crop of off-days in the early going, the club was able to bypass injured Adam Wainwright's most recent turn in the rotation without needing a fifth starter. But the Cardinals will need one again Tuesday against the Twins, and with Jack Flaherty not eligible to be recalled, that start will go to Gant.
Gant earned the win with three scoreless innings of long relief in his only Major League appearance this season, last week against the Mets. The righty went 0-1 with a 5.63 ERA across two starts for the Cardinals last season, and 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA across five this spring at Memphis.
• Girsch called it "very likely" Wainwright's return from elbow inflammation will require a rehab assignment, though none is scheduled at this time. Wainwright threw a second bullpen on Friday, after tossing one Wednesday without incident. Girsch said the club will determine the specifics of Wainwright's rehab assignment Saturday. Wainwright has been eligible to return from the DL since Monday.
• Brett Cecil will likely begin an official rehab assignment next week, Girsch said, after making one more outing at extended spring training. Sidelined since the season's second day with a shoulder strain, Cecil has spent the last week at the club's complex in Jupiter.