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How will Cardinals fill 2 open rotation spots?

@anne__rogers
February 18, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- With the news that Miles Mikolas will start the season on the injured list, the Cardinals’ rotation vacancy went from one to two. And the candidate pool expanded to include a variety of options.

JUPITER, Fla. -- With the news that Miles Mikolas will start the season on the injured list, the Cardinals’ rotation vacancy went from one to two.

And the candidate pool expanded to include a variety of options.

Kwang-Hyun Kim and Carlos Martínez were already vying for the one open spot in the rotation, and now the group of starter candidates will expand to include John Gant, Ryan Helsley and Genesis Cabrera, who all could serve as short-term starters and then be scaled back to the bullpen. Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber are also on starter’s schedules, whether they begin the year in the Major League rotation or Triple-A Memphis.

The Cardinals know they have the depth to cover Mikolas’ innings to start the season. The next five weeks will determine which pitchers will join Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and Dakota Hudson in the rotation when the Cardinals break camp at the end of March.

“There’s a lot of time,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “There’s a lot of quality arms in this camp, and there are a lot of young men that are looking for opportunity. … We don’t anticipate Miles being gone all that long. But having said that, this does create innings. We’ll see who takes advantage of them.”

Both Kim and Martínez have received favorable reviews over the first week of spring and are front-runners to take over the two open spots. Martínez, whose shoulder issues were the reason for his move to the bullpen last year, has proven healthy and recovered well each time he’s thrown. And Cardinals hitters got their first look at Kim on Tuesday morning in a round of live batting practice when he, Wainwright and Flaherty faced Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt.

“They were a little bit different from Korea,” Kim said through interpreter Craig Choi. “They seem to have much more strength compared to Korean hitters. And also, they have good plate discipline as well.”

Despite Goldschmidt hammering a down-the-middle fastball for a home run -- Kim admitted he was a little nervous facing his teammates for the first time and that the fastball should have been more outside -- Kim showed off his curveball and an effective slider. It was clear he made an impression.

Plus, being a lefty helps Kim’s chances. The Cardinals haven’t had a consistent lefty in the rotation since Jaime Garcia in 2016, and Kim would offer key division-rival left-handed batters like Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Christian Yelich a different look.

But the other starting candidates could pitch their way to a starting role this spring. Gant has made it clear he wants to crack the rotation, even after being an effective setup man in the bullpen last year. Helsley and Cabrera will start some spring games to prep them for multiple innings in relief -- but also now to build up to a starter’s workload.

Ponce de Leon and Gomber, who missed last season with left shoulder and bicep weakness, have both been spot starters before and are eyeing the big league rotation. Ponce de Leon spent this offseason smoothing out his delivery, especially on offspeed pitches, to reduce the walks that hurt him when he did make starts for St. Louis.

“If I come out and show some good stuff, I think I have a good shot of at least starting, if not, then the bullpen,” Ponce de Leon said. “I’m OK with being on the big league club, period. I know I have one option left. I don’t really want to burn it.

“I think I’m good enough to pitch on the team. I’ve been up and down the last few years, but I’m pretty confident with how my stuff plays up there.”

The most intriguing option could be Alex Reyes, who is on a starter’s schedule this spring and impressed during live batting practice Monday. The Cardinals are hesitant to put a starter’s workload on him because he’s missed three years with injuries, but the short-term starter’s assignment could be appealing; the Cardinals could then manage Reyes’ innings in a relief role later in the season.

“There’s multiple choices,” manager Mike Shildt said. “We know who they are, so now it’s about going out and competing.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.