The Cardinals will be without their flame-throwing reliever for an extended period of time, as Jordan Hicks is set to receive a second opinion on the right elbow flare-up that landed him on the injured list prior to Tuesday’s tilt against the Mets.
Positive for St. Louis and for Hicks is that the club does not believe surgery is currently on the table, and some type of therapeutic injection -- PRP, stem cell, etc. -- is more likely if anything more than simple and prolonged rest is required. Also positive is the belief that the current ailment is not directly related to the fallout of the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2019.
Still, it’s a setback in an already arduous recovery process for Hicks, with a lengthy time on the shelf in the forecast yet again.
“Obviously, it's not great news,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. “But, you know, hopefully it's something that can be managed and, fingers crossed, that he can join our team at some point this summer.”
Hicks’ placement on the injured list was of little surprise, as the team awaited MRI results since he initially exited Saturday’s 12-5 win over the Pirates. The question was rather how severe, and it’s a question that will linger until further examination is completed.
The Cardinals also needed to place a player on the injured list in order for right-hander Johan Oviedo to return from less than 10 days spent optioned to the Minors, as he was tapped to start against the Mets on Tuesday. The Cardinals didn’t feel the need to name Hicks that player until they read all the reports and “allow[ed] the doctors to weigh in,” as Mozeliak said Monday.
“I think he kind of went into this hoping it would just be a couple days and then back out there,” Mozeliak added Tuesday. “I think, for precautionary reasons, we have to take this slow. We certainly don't want to put him in a situation where you're forced to go down that surgical path.”
The placement of Hicks on the injured list, which is retroactive to Sunday, is a significant derailment amid a return to the Majors 22 months in the making. 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). Every step he took in 2021 was a milestone, getting himself in the MLB saddle all over again for the first time since he appeared in a game almost two full seasons ago.
A fierce competitor, Hicks, 24, utilized his time away from the game wisely but was left with an insatiable desire to get back into the sport. Now he faces another clouded outlook in his young career.
“What it means to someone that hasn't pitched in really two years, it's something that is very unfortunate. I feel for Jordan, because I think from the mental stress of these types of things, you just want to get back and compete and get back on the mound,” Mozeliak said. “Unfortunately, that's not his path right now. … Right now, I think you're going to deal with some of the mental side of this. Ultimately, hopefully he's in a good position, can heal quickly and be back on that mound at some point this year.”
In the interim, the Cardinals’ bullpen will be without its highest-velocity arm -- and one who was starting to pick up multi-inning outings late in games. Right-handers who will likely pick up Hicks’ higher-leverage reps are Ryan Helsley and even Kodi Whitley, who began the year in the Minors but has been a mainstay in the Majors since returning on April 30 -- his second stint with the big league club this season.
Helsley, specifically, has had the eye of the organization as someone who could slot into high-leverage roles as just a 26-year-old, even before the loss of Hicks opened an opportunity for him.
“Ultimately, it's about getting the other guys a couple more opportunities,” said manager Mike Shildt. “They get a chance to step up, and we're comfortable and confident that they'll do just that.”