Hicks returns with heat -- on and off mound

April 4th, 2021

Try missing almost two years in baseball and rehabbing from a relentless injury that used to be a career-ender for pitchers. Try throwing 105 mph and then not being able to throw at all for months on end. Try getting yourself back in the mental headspace of MLB competition on the fly.

Then add in being near the center of an in-game fracas, and try to wind down from it all in the span of a milestone afternoon.

That’s what Saturday looked like for , an impassioned member of the brouhaha between the Cardinals and Reds, who needed to be restrained by teammates in the outfield, and a short while later made his first appearance in a regular-season game since June 22, 2019.

“Just getting back out there and competing was the biggest thing for me the whole time, coming back,” Hicks said. “I just wanted to get out there and compete.”

Emotions were flowing for myriad reasons for Hicks, who underwent Tommy John surgery after that final 2019 outing and then opted out of the ’20 season as a high-risk individual (Type 1 diabetes). Perhaps the Cardinals’ biggest takeaway from a 9-6 loss to Cincinnati? Hicks’ 1-2-3 seventh inning in his return, complete with weak contact and relative ease.

Like riding a bike for the St. Louis flamethrower.

“Just a heck of an accomplishment,” said manager Mike Shildt. “I mean, you can't take it for granted.”

That Hicks was ready to go to bat for his teammates was no surprise, as he's seen as one of the fiercest competitors in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. It's an attribute that has fueled his rise to becoming one of the most well-known hurlers in baseball -- as well as throwing the hardest pitch in MLB history.

Hicks declined to offer specifics about what upset him as the cleared-out bullpens made their way back through the outfield, and he said that nothing exactly derogatory was uttered his way. Regardless, it was another layer on what was slated to be a ceremonious day -- with or without the in-game pleasantries.

Jitters that may have existed had to come and go in a hurry.

“That's kind of part of our job. Sometimes we get up, sometimes we've got to sit down out there in the bullpen. You've just got to be able to manage those emotions and be along for the ride,” Hicks said. “... Just being able to log back in -- that's what I expect for myself in any situation, is to be able to log back in and refocus.”

“It was a microcosm of the group today a little bit,” Shildt said Saturday night.

Most positive: Hicks needed just 13 pitches to breeze through the seventh inning, conceding a single groundout hit harder than 72 mph. Pitch velocity -- his calling card -- was relatively modest … for his standards, averaging 97.5 mph on the four-seamer and 98.1 on the sinker while topping out at 98.7 mph.

Hicks’ toughest at-bat? A six-pitch battle with Reds reliever Cionel Pérez, who made contact for a groundout in his first career plate appearance.

“I didn't realize I was facing a pitcher until I got back to the dugout,” Hicks laughed.

Hicks flashed 100-plus mph in Spring Training -- several times in that epic 22-pitch battle with Luis Guillorme -- but the Cardinals aren’t asking him to blow away batters in the early going, and they don’t want him to overwork himself returning from such an invasive surgery. He’s also not being tossed into back-to-back outings and save situations at the outset, with Alex Reyes getting the bulk of the save opportunities.

Most important: The Cardinals have Hicks back, they have Hicks’ back and, as evident on Saturday, he has his teammates’ backs.

“Good to get him out there,” Shildt said. “And you know, welcome back, Jordan.”