Hence headlines dominant pitching night from Cardinals prospects

No. 21 prospect Mathews slings 11-K gem in High-A debut

May 19th, 2024

It was a good night for Cardinals prospects -- pitchers, to be exact.

In a Saturday Minor League slate that featured Top 30 prospect starting pitchers for three of the four St. Louis affiliates, the trio delivered on their rankings and then some. Tink Hence (Double-A), (High-A) and (Single-A) each pitched at least six innings and fanned five batters or more, all putting their clubs in prime position to win.

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Let's start with the highest ranked. Hence, who is regarded as one of the premier right-handed pitching prospects in the game, twirled a stellar start. Working into the sixth inning for just the third time this year, MLB’s No. 49 prospect fanned nine in six innings of two-run ball in Springfield’s 3-2 walk-off win over Midland.

“It was all on me to just come out with conviction and just go attack these guys,” said Hence, who was a longtime participant of the MLB Develops program prior to turning professional. “I watched a couple pitchers earlier in the week and saw the way [the opposing batters] were attacking our pitchers and trying to swing early.”

Hence’s scouting of Midland’s hitters paid dividends. The Cardinals' No. 1 prospect tallied first pitch strikes on eight of his nine strikeouts and during 16 of the 24 batters he faced. The nine punchouts were his second most this season.

The highlight of Hence’s outing came in the fifth inning. After giving up back-to-back walks that loaded the bases, the right-hander escaped the jam by getting the next batter to ground out to the shortstop.

“Once I got out of the inning, I was like ‘OK, I can come out for the sixth, but I gotta be strong,'” Hence said. “I knew there was a chance that if I got into some trouble then, that I could come out.”

The start lowered Hence’s ERA to 3.18 on the season and was his second outing that reached over 90 pitches this year.

“I know the fifth inning has been the mark for me most of my career,” Hence said. “So I’m just growing that confidence to when I get past that fifth inning, it’s like a new gear that kicks in and it’s like, 'Just go and have fun.'”

Just one state away was Mathews, who was making his High-A Peoria debut after being promoted Monday.

The start, in which Peoria lost 3-2 to West Michigan, represented the first test of his stuff vs. High-A bats, and he passed with flying colors. The 2023 fourth-rounder carved up the Whitecaps' lineup, racking up a whopping 11 punchouts in seven one-run innings. Mathews credits the results to the improvement he has made when it comes to attacking hitters.

“The guys are going up there hacking. They get paid to swing, they get paid to hit the ball and they get paid to hit the ball really hard,” said Mathews, who is ranked as the Cardinals' No. 21 prospect. “So, it’s how do I eliminate the number of opportunities every single night that I give guys to do damage on the pitches that they’re looking for?”

Mathews’ lone run allowed in the contest came in the sixth inning. After surrendering a leadoff walk and a single to start the frame, he gave up a sacrifice fly to Tigers prospect Luke Gold.

The southpaw’s 11 K’s marked the third time this season that he has eclipsed double-digit strikeouts in a start, with his season high being 13 whiffs (April 26). While the box score suggests Mathews’ night was all positive, the Stanford product still sees plenty of room for improvement.

“Controlling the running game was definitely a point of emphasis we had been making as an organization, and especially this team, and I don’t think I did that to the standard that is trying to be upheld,” Mathews said.

In six starts prior to Saturday, Mathews posted a 1.47 ERA and 0.82 WHIP with Single-A Palm Beach.

Rounding out the trio of Cardinals prospects with strong starts was Lin, the club's No. 23 prospect. The 6-foot-7 right-hander fanned five in six scoreless innings in Palm Beach’s 13-1 win over St. Lucie.