Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader will start the season on the injured list with soreness in his right forearm and is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks, the club said on Wednesday.
Manager Mike Shildt announced the ailment prior to his team's 3-0 Grapefruit League win over the Mets, and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak later described it as a strain of the right flexor tendon.
“The ligament is completely intact,” Mozeliak said. “There's no concerns there at all.”
Bader received a PRP injection in his right forearm on Wednesday morning to alleviate the discomfort. He’ll be shut down from baseball activities for two weeks and then re-evaluated, Mozeliak said.
Similar soreness kept Bader out of a week’s worth of Grapefruit League games at the beginning of March. The initial flareup was said to only inhibit his throwing, but recent exacerbations started to creep into how he felt offensively, Shildt said, and that’s when the club decided a more aggressive approach was necessary. Bader went 3-for-28 in 10 games this spring.
“At that point we have to take another step that requires more time and rest, and a little more serious treatment,” Shildt said. “Just something that has gone away and keeps coming back and we can't get it to go away. So here we are.”
A Cardinals outfield without Bader does two things. First, it means top prospect Dylan Carlson will likely be the starting center fielder, a role he took on for the second consecutive Grapefruit League game on Wednesday.
“I wouldn't declare it, but I think it's a strong possibility,” Shildt said. “He's proven he can do it, so it's definitely a possibility. … He does have an instinct for it.”
Second, it clears up a crowded outfield picture, at least at the outset of the season. Lane Thomas, Justin Williams and John Nogowski -- the latter primarily a first baseman who has been taking reps in the outfield -- all now have a better chance to make the Opening Day roster. Thomas, specifically, is another prime candidate to play center, while Williams has impressed all spring and could get a majority of reps in right when Carlson plays center.
“Obviously, not having Harrison Bader roaming center field is not great news, but the fact that it's not season-long, I think we can manage through this,” Mozeliak said. “And other players are also having nice camps, like a Justin Williams. Still very optimistic about what we're seeing out of this group, and ultimately, I hope that we have enough horsepower that we can make up for Bader’s loss.”
Nevertheless, the loss of Bader means the loss of a Gold Glove-caliber fielder in the outfield. The pitching depth has already been tested this spring, and now the defense is on the spot.
“People are going to get an opportunity to step up, and we have every confidence they’ll go in and make the plays they're capable of,” Shildt said. “That's all we can ask.”
Around the horn
• Carlos Martínez turned in his best outing of spring against the Mets -- his fourth time facing them -- with six shutout innings on Wednesday. He struck out five against two walks but had each of his five pitches working. With injuries around the rotation, Shildt said there’s a “really good chance” Martínez is the club’s No. 3 starter, but it’s still being sorted out.
• For the first time since June 13, 2019, Jordan Hicks recorded a save. He worked around a four-pitch leadoff walk to set down his next three batters in order, topping out at 100.4 mph. The Cardinals will ease Hicks back into his first regular-season action in April, but it was certainly a positive sign to have “Save: Hicks (1)” back on the scorecard.
“It's great to see that he looks like he hasn't really missed a beat,” Mozeliak said. “I think the key for him is coming back from his injury, we just want to be smart about it. When you look at the horsepower that's in that bullpen, there's a lot to be excited about.”