Gallegos' arrival gives Cards' bullpen options

July 20th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Giovanny Gallegos was back on the field Sunday after a long delay in arriving to Summer Camp. He threw a light bullpen session before Sunday’s intrasquad game and watched the game from the stands with Carlos Martínez.

Gallegos gained clearance to fly from Mexico to St. Louis a few days ago and went through the necessary tests to be able to come to the ballpark Sunday. The reliever declined to comment on the reason for his absence.

“I don’t [want] to talk about that situation right now, but I’m here and so happy to be here,” Gallegos said. “I feel really good. I tried to be ready. It was a difficult situation, but I’m happy to be here.”

After driving over 25 hours from Florida to his home in Mexico when Spring Training was cancelled, Gallegos settled into a routine throwing bullpen sessions and batting practices at home. When he wasn’t able to fly to St. Louis, he continued that routine -- which could allow him to be available for Opening Day on Friday in St. Louis. The team wants to gauge how he feels and how he recovers from the bullpen session, as well as see him face live hitters, before determining if he’ll be ready.

“The good news is he’s here,” manager Mike Shildt said. “He’s healthy. He’s been throwing. … We’ll just continue to kind of take it as we go. But like I say, he feels good. He’s been throwing. He threw today. We’ll see how he recovers tomorrow and we’ll set the plan accordingly.”

Even if he’s not ready by Friday, Gallegos’ presence is a welcome sign for a bullpen trying to sort itself out as Opening Day approaches quickly. The team got Alex Reyes and Génesis Cabrera back on the field Saturday, too, although after confirmed positive COVID-19 tests and 14 days of quarantine, their availability for the season will be pushed back until they can build up. They will eventually bring welcome depth to a bullpen that has been picked apart by injuries, absences from camp and the recent decision by Jordan Hicks to opt out of the 2020 season.

A rotation decision will come in the next few days, Shildt said, which will then influence bullpen roles. Some expected decisions have already been made, like Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon transitioning into bullpen roles. Each threw an inning in Sunday’s intrasquad game and will be used in a variety of ways this season. They’re both built up to be long-inning relievers, but both have the stuff to bring to a late-inning situation.

The team will also decide between Martínez and lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim for the rotation. If Martínez -- who will pitch in Wednesday’s exhibition game -- makes the rotation, the Cardinals will need to find a designated closer on their staff. After his breakout rookie season, Gallegos was a frontrunner in this conversation. He posted a 2.31 ERA across 74 innings (66 games) with 93 strikeouts compared to 16 walks. With his absence from Summer Camp, the Cardinals won’t have him pitch in those same high-leverage situations right away, even if he does make the Opening Day roster. Candidates like Andrew Miller and Ryan Helsley are still in play, and the Cardinals will have 16 or 17 pitchers on their roster. The way they manage late innings will be different than a normal season.

“We just got him into camp,” Shildt said. “The role that Gio had last year may be unfair to put him in this year maybe right out of the gate, so clearly that creates an opportunity for other guys. I think that’s reasonable to think it changes things up a little bit to start.”

Gallegos is ready to pitch in any situation. After finally getting into camp, he’s itching to get back on the mound and said he feels “100 percent ready.”

“I try to be ready to pitch for the team whenever they need me,” Gallegos said. “I try to be ready for any situation. I don’t care. Close the game, middle of the game. When I sit in the bullpen, I try to be ready every day, 100 percent, help the team win the game.”