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Kim controls nerves to impress in Cards' opener

@anne__rogers
February 22, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- Seven St. Louis pitchers held the Mets scoreless on Saturday in the Grapefruit League opener, and one of those pitchers was the newest Cardinal -- Kwang-Hyun Kim. The Korean lefty, signed to a two-year, $8 million deal this offseason, gave fans -- and many of his teammates

JUPITER, Fla. -- Seven St. Louis pitchers held the Mets scoreless on Saturday in the Grapefruit League opener, and one of those pitchers was the newest Cardinal -- Kwang-Hyun Kim.

The Korean lefty, signed to a two-year, $8 million deal this offseason, gave fans -- and many of his teammates -- their first look at the winter acquisition. Kim fanned two with his effective slider, pitching the fifth inning in the Cardinals’ 2-0 win.

“That was the first time I really got to watch him,” starter Jack Flaherty said. “He was good, fun to watch. I saw some of his live BP the other day, but it’s a little different atmosphere, so seeing him get a guy out in a different uniform was cool to see.”

Kim admitted he was nervous in his spring debut, but he certainly can’t complain about the results. He struck out Ryan Cordell with three swinging strikes and walked Patrick Mazeika, then struck out Jake Hager swinging on three pitches.

“First time on the mound today, so I was kind of nervous,” Kim said through interpreter Craig Choi. “But the results were good, so I was happy.”

The Cardinals will have Kim compete for one of the two open rotation spots now that Miles Mikolas (flexor tendon strain) is starting the season on the injured list. It’ll likely be between Kim and Carlos Martínez, although the Cardinals are considering a variety of options. Kim threw 19 pitches, 14 of them for strikes, and his next outing will likely come as a starter either Wednesday or Thursday.

Saturday was a good first step for the 31-year-old Kim. His slider was his best pitch, and his fastball played well off it, too. He also threw a softer, loopier curveball that got Cordell to swing on the first pitch.

“The slider was an effective pitch,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Had that sharp, late break, but also the depth. It’s a quality pitch for him for sure.”

Cecil returns to the mound

It’s been almost a full year since Brett Cecil pitched in a game for the Cardinals, dating back to the few Grapefruit League games he threw last spring until he was shut down with the carpel tunnel syndrome that required surgery and made him miss the entire season.

Feeling in arm restored, Cecil's ready to battle

So on Saturday he rightfully had to shake off the nerves when he came in to pitch the sixth. He hit Brandon Nimmo to start the inning, but then got Jake Mangum to strike out swinging and got the next two batters to hit soft outs.

“I was a little nervous, kind of not as free as I usually feel,” Cecil said. “But after the first hitter, I loosened up a little bit.”

Shildt said that Cecil’s stuff looked “crisper” than he’s seen in a while. The 33-year-old left-hander, who is entering the final year of his four-year, $30.5 million contract, threw his fastball, curveball and slider in his 11-pitch outing. He is fully healthy with no limitations this spring, and is working on staying healthy while pitching his way to a bullpen role.

“Physically, I’m there where I want to be,” he said. “Arm strength, I think, builds through Spring Training. I’m happy with where I’m at right now. I know that it can be better as far as ... I mean, feeling-wise, I couldn’t be any better. I’m feeling good. But arm strength, that’s what comes through Spring Training.”

Worth noting

• Matt Carpenter recorded the Cardinals’ first hit of 2020 with a line drive to left field -- exactly the kind of hit he has been looking for in batting practice. Tyler O’Neill then contributed the Cardinals’ first home run of the year when he crushed -- 115-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast -- a solo shot to left field in the second inning, even with the wind cutting straight into the stadium.

“Yeah, I got that pretty good,” O’Neill said. “We’ve been doing some live at-bats in the backfields a little bit, just to try and replicate at-bats and games and different pitchers, things like that. So that prepared me a little bit to be set up in the game. It’s definitely different when there’s thousands of people around you in a game-like atmosphere out there. I’m just trying to play with it.”

• Former Cardinals pitcher and center fielder Rick Ankiel is working with the team's hitters this spring, and he’ll switch to working with the pitchers in a few days. Shildt said that Ankiel, who is also a broadcaster on Fox Sports Midwest, brought the idea to president of baseball operations John Mozeliak first. He’ll work with the Minor Leaguers later this spring as well.

“We’re big on the experiences,” Shildt said. “Taking advantages of your own and being aware of others. … Rick [has] a lot of unique experiences and a lot of different ways that can be relatable to the guys in different places.”

Up next

The Cardinals head north to Port St. Lucie on Sunday afternoon to face the Mets at 1:10 p.m. ET. Adam Wainwright will start, with Carlos Martínez, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jake Woodford and Jesus Cruz scheduled to follow. Harrison Bader, Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong are among the hitters who will make the trip as well.

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.