ST. LOUIS -- Fearful about the health of their new catcher after he took a 102.7 mph sinker off the shin guard protecting his right knee, the Cardinals got good news on Friday when the MRI on Willson Contreras' right knee came back clean. Contreras, who has a knee contusion, will be considered day to day and won't need to spend time on the injured list, according to president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.
Manager Oliver Marmol confirmed the results of the MRI on Friday, a day after Contreras was forced to leave his Cardinals debut after being hit flush on the knee of his shin guard by a sinker from right-hander Jordan Hicks. Contreras, who had two hits and threw out a baserunner at second in his Cards debut, left Thursday’s 10-9 Opening Day loss in the top of the eighth inning when he was unable to continue because of the pain in his right knee.
X-rays on the knee came back negative on Thursday night, and Marmol said on Friday that even after the clean MRI, Contreras was still undergoing testing to evaluate the severity of the bruising and swelling to his knee.
There is no firm timetable yet as to when Contreras will return to the lineup. The Cardinals host the Blue Jays at 1:15 p.m. CT at Busch Stadium on Saturday. If Contreras can’t play, Andrew Knizner will likely start in his place. Knizner, who replaced Contreras on Thursday, caught the final six outs of the loss to Toronto on Opening Day.
Contreras came up limping and in obvious pain when he was unable to get a glove on the low-and-away 102.7 mph sinker that hit directly off the knee of his shin guard. The ball hit so hard that it ricocheted up the first-base line and almost into the dugout. Even though he was hobbling, Contreras briefly gave chase before first baseman Paul Goldschmidt fielded the slow roller.
“It was hurting him pretty good,” Marmol said after Thursday’s game. “It squared him up in the knee, and he was having a hard time kind of putting any weight on it, let alone trying to bend it.”
Added Cardinals star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who claimed to have heard a pop when the pitch hit off the catcher’s shin guard: “[Contreras] was moving all right and when he ran to get the ball, I thought that was a good sign. I hope he’s all right, because that was a fast pitch, it hit him hard and it went all the way to first base. I hope he’s all right. We need him because he’s a stud.”
The wild pitch, which appeared to hit the ground and Contreras’ knee at the same time, allowed Toronto’s George Springer and Bo Bichette to move into scoring position. Both later scored on a single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to give the Blue Jays an 8-7 lead.
Marmol revealed after the game that Hicks was used in the eighth because reliever Giovanny Gallegos strained his back on Wednesday and aggravated it prior to Thursday’s opener. Hicks allowed two runs on three hits and one walk in the eighth, and All-Star closer Ryan Helsley surrendered two runs in the top of the ninth.
Contreras, who signed an $87.5 million free agent deal with the Cardinals in December, had two singles earlier in the game. He also threw out Matt Chapman while attempting to steal second base. According to MLB Stats and Research, there were only two baserunners thrown out in 23 attempts in the 15 Opening Day games, and Contreras recorded one of them.
“Any time a new shiny toy gets bruised up, it’s not cool,” starting pitcher Miles Mikolas said. “He was hitting the ball well, had some big hits for us. He was catching a good game and he threw a guy out. It stinks, but we’ve got extremely capable catchers in this clubhouse with Knizner.
“From what I understand, it’s just a bruise [on Contreras’ knee] and I’m sure he’ll be back in short order.”