Reyes vaults into save chances conversation

Facing innings limit, right-hander's power stuff stands out to Shildt

April 2nd, 2021

The Cardinals have been reluctant to name a closer to open the 2021 season, believing that they have a plethora of high-leverage arms who can close games on a need-to basis.

On paper, ahead of Thursday’s Opening Day matchup with the Reds, the Cardinals still do not have a closer. But they have a “back of the game” pitcher, at the very least.

Manager Mike Shildt said that he "wouldn't be surprised" if right-hander Alex Reyes is the pitcher who will be getting the bulk of chances in the eighth and ninth innings -- or bits of both.

“He's got everything you'd want to have in a guy that can be in that spot,” Shildt said. “So it's his opportunity.”

Reyes delivered a scoreless ninth during the Cardinals' 11-6 win in their season opener, working around one hit and one walk.

The uber-talented former top prospect has been kept out of the rotation this season and limited to 100 innings, citing workload concerns and with an eye towards the 2022 rotation. Reyes found himself starting games last season -- and then closing them by the time the postseason rolled around.

What’s more, Reyes is coming off of a dynamite spring, having retiring the first 15 of 17 batters that he faced en route to 10 strikeouts across 7 2/3 innings, pitching towards the end of several Grapefruit League games.

The Cardinals salivate at his talent, and they feel that his stretched-out past can serve him in multi-inning, late-game appearances.

Closing is Reyes’ job to lose now. But the Cards have options, with Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller and Ryan Helsley all with prior closing experience and all expected to get chances if Reyes stumbles or is down for a day. Jordan Hicks, who hasn’t pitched in a game since June 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and having opted out of the '20 season as a high-risk individual, will be eased into his opportunities, Shildt said.

Injury updates
• Left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim (back tightness) remains in Jupiter, Fla., for rehab, where he faced live hitters Thursday. He threw 51 pitches for 11 outs -- or 4 2/3 innings -- according to Shildt, with nine outs recorded by strikeout.

Next up for the Cards' starter is a bullpen session and one more time facing live hitters in an extended setting, and then “kind of a, 'Here we go' kind of thing,” Shildt said, with Kim's return expected by mid-April.

Harrison Bader (right forearm soreness) will make the trip to the alternate training site in Sauget, Ill., from Jupiter this weekend to continue rehab with his physical therapist, Cardinals assistant director of performance Thomas Knox. Miles Mikolas (right shoulder soreness) is also expected to face live hitters at the alternate training site soon. Both are slated for late April/early May returns.

Waiver claim
The Cardinals announced before Thursday’s opener that they have claimed left-hander Bernardo Flores Jr. off waivers from the White Sox and sent him to the alternate training site. Flores, 25, pitched in two games in the Majors in 2020 and owns a 3.18 ERA across 82 Minor League games (79 starts). The Cardinals’ 40-man roster is now at 40.

Alternate training site roster
Speaking of the alternate training site, this week the Cards announced the 21 players that will start the year a stone’s throw away from Busch Stadium at GCS Credit Union Ballpark. Among the group are top pitching prospects Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson, as well as a roster of players mostly expected to open the year at Triple-A; Liberatore and Thompson’s 2021 Minor League fate is to be determined.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Thursday that he does not foresee scrimmages with other teams’ camps. Regardless, should injuries arise for St. Louis, this group contains the most likely candidates to be called upon.