Hicks is slated to undergo further testing and imaging on his elbow and forearm when the club returns to St. Louis on Monday.
“I think there's optimism,” manager Mike Shildt said prior to Sunday’s series finale in Pittsburgh, when asked if Hicks could miss some time. “Depends on what your view of a stretch is. If we end up having to take a small pause, we might make a decision for 10 days. But we want to give ourselves that opportunity after some imaging tomorrow to gather all the facts, so to speak.”
For Hicks, any time on the shelf would be his first since missing the second half of the 2019 season and all of ’20. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2019 and then opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season as a high-risk individual (Type 1 diabetes).
Shildt said that it’s not rare for pitchers returning from such an invasive, reconstructive surgery like Tommy John to experience flare-ups like this.
“At this moment, we don't feel like anything structurally is taking place,” Shildt said on Saturday night. “[The medical team is] confident of that, everything feels good. He's been getting periodic checkups, everything's been great. He just has some inflammation, has some stiffness. It's really not uncommon with the recovery from this when you get back to competition.”
Hicks was pulled from Saturday’s win after facing three batters and throwing 18 pitches in the seventh inning. He was seen grimacing and staring at his forearm after his last pitch -- a ball to Bryan Reynolds -- earning a visit from athletic trainer Chris Conroy. Hicks was then removed from the game mid-at-bat.
Encouraging for the Cardinals was Hicks’ velocity. He never topped 100 mph on the night (which is not an anomaly, as he looks to hone his speed to his advantage), but his last pitch of the night -- a 99.6 mph sinker -- was his fastest, though he yanked it inside.
The Cardinals have been cautious with Hicks -- who is still just 24 years old -- as he makes his first return to game action in nearly two years. They’ve refrained from using him in back-to-back days at the outset of the season and, in spurts, are building him up to be a two-inning arm. The velocity has played, though some control issues have persisted, as he has as many walks as strikeouts (10 each) and a 5.40 ERA over 10 innings.
“I mean, look, there's got to be some level of concern, right?” Shildt said Saturday. “But we've been working with him and the medical team the entire season. … You have your starts and fits [in rehab] a little bit. And again, you're seeing it during our season, whereas you might have seen it during another opportunity which he would have gotten last year, but it didn't take place because we didn't have it.
“Not uncommon. Concern? Yes. Overly concerned? Not necessarily. Neither is Jordan, but obviously we'll get a follow-up [that] supports it or not.”