MILWAUKEE -- After jogging in from the Miller Park bullpen and throwing a series of warmup pitches, Alex Reyes allowed himself a moment to reflect.
He dug his foot into the mound -- the same one he had exited last year with an uncertain future -- and looked down at the rubber. It was then, he acknowledged afterward, that he felt the weight of “every second from last year.”
“That was a moment for me where I felt like, 'OK. I’m back,'” Reyes said. “Now it’s time to play baseball.”
Reyes completed a comeback that traced back 10 months, fittingly to this same place. It was in Milwaukee that Reyes had exited his first appearance since 2016 with questions about the durability of his shoulder. Surgery followed, abruptly ending his 2018 season.
But questions about Reyes’ readiness to contribute this year were answered in spring, and Friday offered the Cardinals their first opportunity to showcase the right-hander in manager Mike Shildt’s new-look bullpen.
With the Cardinals leading by four in what would finish as a 9-5 win over the Brewers, Reyes retired all three batters he faced during a 12-pitch seventh inning.
“I’m just happy he’s back,” Shildt said. “I applaud Alex, what he’s been able to do and how he’s been able to do it. Go out and let his talent be on display. Clearly, he’s got it.”
Reyes began the night as the club’s top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, but ended it having shed the designation. With his first out on Friday, he officially hit an innings threshold that negates his eligibility. He had been the team’s No. 1 prospect for four consecutive seasons.
“I didn’t sign a professional contract to become a prospect,” Reyes said. “I wanted to be in the Majors, and I want to help this club win in the big leagues. It was fun to hear the phone ring and for your name to finally be called. It was an exciting moment, a moment I’ve been waiting for for a while. It’s truly a blessing to be able to go out there and play this game.”
Reyes' appearance highlighted a night in which the Cardinals received their first look at several critical pieces in their ‘pen.
Andrew Miller followed Reyes in the eighth, and, after serving up a homer to Christian Yelich, escaped further damage by inducing an inning-ending double play. Jordan Hicks then breezed through the ninth, seemingly teasing the Brewers with his sinker-slider-changeup combination. He struck out two.
“If you can draw that up,” Shildt quipped afterward, “I’ll be painting every day.”
All this came, too, after key contributions from John Gant, who helped maneuver the Cardinals through two precarious innings before Paul Goldschmidt provided the necessary cushion. Gant, who has appeared in each of the team’s first two games, struck out Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw in a spot where the Brewers had the potential go-ahead run on in the fifth.
The Cardinals’ bullpen has opened the season with one run allowed in 7 2/3 innings.
“Our group back there is very special,” Reyes said. “All the seven guys can get outs in any innings. These are all guys who have pretty much closer stuff, and for us to all be in one bullpen, it’s going to be a fun year."