Back on mound, Reyes calls baseball 'a blessing'

Touted prospect missed nearly all of past 2 seasons

February 13th, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Two years have passed since sat at a nearby clinic having his ailing elbow examined while his teammates took the field for their first official spring workout. He never did return to join them.

It's a subjective, but significant, starting point on a journey that took Reyes into Wednesday, when he took the mound not as a rehabbing pitcher, but as one readying for the season ahead. He did so with perspective and purpose, not all of which can be traced back to professional adversity.

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There were the two surgeries, yes, and the months of rehab that followed. There was only one start. There were also months spent sleeping on hospital room floors while his daughter, Aleyka, received cancer treatment for a neuroblastoma that doctors diagnosed when she was five months old.

A torn ligament in Reyes' right elbow and the torn tendon around his latissimus dorsi muscle were hardly comparable setbacks.

"For me, baseball is a blessing," Reyes said. "If I get to play 10 or 15 years, that's a blessing. For my daughter, it's a blessing for her to live."

With Aleyka's cancer in remission and Reyes' rehab complete, the 24-year-old now hopes to make good on the expectations he's carried since starting his organizational climb in 2013. He ascended to the top of the Cardinals' prospect rankings in 2016 and has remained there ever since.

It's a nod to his talent, but also a reminder of how long he has been stuck in place.

"My job is to be on a Major League roster," Reyes said on Wednesday. "I'd like to get off those prospect lists as soon as possible."

The next batter he retires at the big league level will nullify his eligibility.

The Cardinals haven't downplayed the importance of this coming year for Reyes, with president of baseball operations John Mozeliak going so far as to recently describe it as a "huge season" for the right-hander. The good news is it's off to a normal and predictable start.

A few hours after passing his physical, Reyes threw alongside and Connor Jones to open Spring Training. He showcased all of his pitches, including a more confident curveball that has Reyes especially excited.

His spring schedule will be modified to allow for two days of rest (instead of the normal one) between bullpen sessions and a little longer wait before facing hitters in live batting practice. But as it's scripted, the Cardinals have every intention of including Reyes in Grapefruit League play.

"If they give me an opportunity to pitch in a big league Spring Training game, to me, that's telling me that I have an opportunity to break with the big league club," Reyes said. "For me, that's going to be my goal no matter what -- to break with the Major League team."

How that works within the restrictions the Cards will place on his workload this year remains an incomplete puzzle. There's a chance he slides into a bullpen role in an effort to limit innings. If he starts, it likely won't be right away. The Cards don't want to ride him so hard early that he can't be a weapon late.

It's a conundrum that won't likely be solved for several weeks, but a welcome one nonetheless. Having Reyes back on the mound without significant restriction is one of the team's first wins of spring.

"He's in a good place," manager Mike Shildt said. "We're mindful of where he is and where he's going and how we progress it. But he's in a really, really, really good spot."