While Cardinals manager Mike Shildt is still working without two of his regular starting pitchers early in the 2021 season, he is considering experimenting with his rotation once they return.
Both Kwang Hyun Kim and Miles Mikolas remain on the injured list. Mikolas hasn’t faced hitters since Feb. 25 after missing the 2020 season following surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right arm. Kim is still working his way back from back tightness in Spring Training.
The absences have pushed John Gant and Daniel Ponce de Leon into St. Louis' starting rotation, though Kim is nearing a return after throwing 68 pitches in a five-inning simulated game on Tuesday. However, Shildt hasn’t ruled out keeping both Gant and Ponce de Leon in the rotation to help the transition.
“It's hard to say, because I don't know where we'll be with our bullpen at the moment,” Shildt said. “Sixth man's a roster spot, so six-man rotation, you know at that point, you feel like you're still good with eight men in the bullpen, then it's possible.”
Shildt is normally a proponent of the five-man rotation, but with increased caution with pitchers’ rest following the shortened 2020 season, Shildt said he’s looked at spots in the early part of the season where using six starters makes sense.
“We're going to honor the off-days,” Shildt said. “We'll continue to do it throughout the season, and then we'll look at places up until the All-Star break to pick our place to go with a sixth starter to give guys a break.”
Teams across the Majors have experimented with their rotations already this season. With Kim and Mikolas out, Ponce de Leon and Gant have combined to allow one earned run and seven hits in nine innings as the Cardinals won their first two games of the series against the Marlins. So it’s not a surprise Shildt is keeping the idea of using a sixth starter in mind.
Whether or not Shildt does it for the long haul will be something to monitor over the course of the year.
“Whether we do it in a more full-time regimented capacity, I don't believe we will, but I can't rule it out,” Shildt said. “But everything's on the table, and we’ll evaluate as the season goes. There are some spots in the first half of the season where we're going to look and make sure that we're keeping the guys on a pretty consistent, five-day-type situation.”