Hicks' growth on full display in K of Harper

May 8th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Manager Mike Shildt insists that he summoned out of the bullpen with one out in the ninth inning of a 6-0 game on Monday because the closer needed work. It’s a reasonable enough explanation given that it had been seven days since Hicks had last pitched.

But Shildt’s decision to bring Hicks in when he did also created some intriguing baseball theater. Waiting for Hicks after he finished his warmup pitches was Phillies slugger , who had never before faced the second-year reliever.

“That just happened to be how the matchup worked out,” Shildt said. “You’re talking about two really talented people competing, and that’s always fun to watch.”

What followed was a sequence that displayed just how much Hicks has matured as a pitcher over the last calendar year. It was last May when he reached 105 mph on the radar gun while making an appearance against the Phillies at home. On Monday, Hicks maxed out at 101.2 mph against Harper, but ultimately got the outfielder to swing through three sliders to notch the strikeout.

Hicks followed with a strikeout of , who also whiffed at a slider.

“That was a great battle,” catcher Yadier Molina said of the Hicks vs. Harper showdown. “[Hicks] has talent. He has a great arm. Instead of throwing the ball 104 [mph], he wants to strike guys out with sliders, and he wants to be a pitcher.”

He’s done that quite well to this point. After throwing sinkers on 75 percent of his pitches in 2018, Hicks has dropped that percentage to 59 so far this season, according to Statcast. At the same time, the use of his slider has jumped, from 22 percent to 34 percent. He mixes in a changeup occasionally, too.

But it’s the slider -- not the triple-digit sinker -- that opponents are talking about now. Hicks has yet to allow a hit on the pitch, and he has registered a whiff percentage of 58.6 on the 64 sliders he’s thrown. Incorporating the pitch more frequently is also a big reason why his strikeout rate has jumped from 20.6 percent in 2018 to 37.5 percent in '19. That ranks in the top 4 percent of the National League, as does Hicks’ xBA (.141), xSLG (.225) and xwOBA (.224).

Hicks has also converted nine of his 10 save opportunities, while allowing three runs in 13 1/3 innings.

“Jordan has evolved from thrower to pitcher, for sure,” Shildt said. “There’s no question about it. This guy is sincere about being good at his craft, and that’s going to require that he develop his pitches, use his pitches. Of course, Yadi has some input with that, too. But I think [Monday] was a good example of Jordan’s growth and development of how to pitch.”

Worth noting

(right shoulder cuff strain) has left for Memphis, where he’ll make a relief appearance for the Triple-A Redbirds on Wednesday. If he’s as efficient as his last outing (three outs on six pitches), Martinez will extend his outing into a second inning.

• Class A Advanced Palm Beach outfielder Justin Toerner and low-A Peoria right-hander Tommy Parsons were selected by Minor League Baseball as Player of the Month winners for April in their respective leagues. Toerner led the Florida State League in batting average (.394), runs (20), on-base percentage (.531) and OPS (1.081). Parsons finished the month 3-0 with a 0.30 ERA in four Midwest League starts and held opponents to 11 hits in 30 innings.

Breast cancer survivor to be honored

The Cardinals plan to recognize Elaine Moel of Ellisville, Mo., prior to Sunday’s game after Moel was selected as one of Major League Baseball’s 30 Honorary Bat Girls, each of whom has “demonstrated an extraordinary commitment in their battle against breast cancer.”

Moel was 41 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2007. She is now a 12-year breast cancer survivor and remains a regular participant in Komen’s Race for the Cure events. She has been a part of the Cardinals’ race team and continues to support fundraising for breast cancer awareness through trivia nights.

In addition to recognizing Moel on Sunday, the Cardinals will have several players swinging pink bats and wearing pink items such as wristbands, socks, compression sleeves, batting gloves, footwear and wrist/elbow/leg guards during their Mother’s Day game against the Pirates. Uniforms for all 30 clubs will feature the MLB breast cancer awareness logo, and players will don caps highlighted by a pink crown.

For the first time since the Honorary Bat Girl program’s inception in 2009, MLB has partnered with CrowdRise by GoFundMe to host a fundraising contest for each of the Honorary Bat Girls to benefit Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) and Susan G. Komen. The winner of the contest will receive a trip to the 2019 World Series. MLB will donate all funds from the contest to SU2C and Komen.