Kim's back injury another setback for Cards

March 14th, 2021

Another Cardinals pitcher has hit the shelf.

has been briefly shut down from throwing after experiencing back stiffness in the middle of a recent bullpen session, manager Mike Shildt said before Saturday’s 6-4 win over the Marlins.

“I don’t think it’s a huge setback,” Shildt said, “but nonetheless a setback.”

Since then, Kim’s back has started to loosen up, Shildt added, but the Cardinals will give their left-hander some time to recover and reset before putting any timeline on a potential return date to throw, let alone game action. In any event, Saturday marks the second consecutive day in which a St. Louis pitcher has been shut down after Miles Mikolas was doled a seven- to 10-day pause on Friday while dealing with right shoulder stiffness.

Mikolas will not be in the rotation to start the season, and Kim may be headed for a similar fate.

“We don’t anticipate it being long, but clearly, we don’t know exactly what that timeframe looks like,” Shildt said of Mikolas. “So clearly that opened up a spot in the rotation to start the season, and possibly the same thing with KK. Can’t rule it out.”

The Cardinals’ rotation already had questions entering camp, and now faces even more. Kim’s questionable availability all but locks up a spot for Carlos Martínez behind Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright. Daniel Ponce de Leon -- Saturday’s starter -- as well as John Gant, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford and, potentially but less likely, top prospects Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore are candidates to fill out the rotation.

The Cardinals, who did not make a move for a starter this offseason outside of re-signing Wainwright, are experiencing pitching adversity early in what’s expected to be a challenging year for arms. But the club remains steadfast in believing its depth can make up for any losses.

“We are confident in [our starters], and we do have people that have experience doing it,” Shildt said. “That’s really where the confidence lies. It's not just having depth, it’s having some quality of depth.”

Following his first Grapefruit League start, Kim mentioned that he was fighting for a faster velocity than the 87.9 mph he averaged on fastballs, something he improved upon marginally the next time out. The Cardinals do not believe the back and velocity issues are related.

Kim, 32, signed a two-year, $8 million contract before the 2020 season following 12 years playing in South Korea. He burst onto the scene last year as a rookie, nailing down a save in his debut before converting to a starter and not looking back, for a 1.62 ERA for the season.

Big step is next for Hicks

When one pitcher goes down, another returns. Jordan Hicks is penciled in to make his long-awaited return to an officially scored game when the Cardinals play the Mets on Sunday, Shildt said.

Hicks, who opted out of the 2020 season as a high-risk individual (Type 1 diabetes) after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June ’19, has taken part in a “B” game -- where he was said to be dynamite -- and faced live hitters a handful of times this spring. 

The flame-throwing righty will get one inning against New York, as the Cardinals weigh whether to throw him back into the closer role by the start of the regular season or give him lower-leverage innings to get situated in game action.

Cards make first cuts of camp

St. Louis made its first round of cuts from Major League camp after Saturday’s win, sending 12 players to the Minor League side to whittle its roster down to 54 players.

The most surprising of the bunch may be Junior Fernández, who was optioned despite being seen externally as a rather viable bullpen candidate after appearing in 16 games over the past two seasons. Fellow right-hander Johan Quezada was also optioned.

The rest of the cuts, as re-assignments, include: pitchers Conner Jones, Griffin Roberts, Austin Warner and Garrett Williams; catchers Pedro Pages and Carlos Soto; infielders Luken Baker and Kramer Robertson; and outfielders Lars Nootbaar and Justin Toerner.

Nogowski’s big night

John Nogowski continues to do no wrong this spring. The 28-year-old, who's looking to break with the club as a backup for Paul Goldschmidt and pinch-hitting candidate, went 4-for-4 with four RBIs in Saturday’s win over the Marlins. 

That consisted of three run-scoring hits, two of which came with a pair of outs.

“I think that just breaks the other team,” Nogowski said. “I think that breaks the opposing pitcher. … That's what wins games.”

Nogowski is 6-for-17 this spring with a homer, eight RBIs and, perhaps most important, five walks compared to just two strikeouts. He’s also keeping outfield as an option as well, just in case that’s where the playing time lies with Goldschmidt entrenched.

Club agrees to terms with 24 players

The Cards announced Saturday that they have agreed to one-year deals for 2021 with all 24 of their players with between zero and three years of service time. This comes on the heels of right-hander Flaherty having his salary renewed -- meaning it was imposed by the team because he did not accept their proposed figure -- each of the past two seasons.