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Cards not tempted to start Reyes during spring

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- Though he continues to progress without any physical hiccups, Alex Reyes will not have his rehab program accelerated by the Cardinals just to allow the right-hander to appear in Grapefruit League games. Reyes will not pitch in a game before the regular season starts, pitching coach Mike Maddux said on Friday.

The Cardinals continue to be cautious with Reyes, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club's top prospect and the game's 17th-best, increasing his workload in small increments since the beginning of camp. The 40-pitch batting-practice session Reyes threw on Thursday, to a mix of Major League and Minor League hitters, represented his fourth and most rigorous session of the spring. Reyes also pitched briefly in an intrasquad game last week. He is 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Though he continues to progress without any physical hiccups, Alex Reyes will not have his rehab program accelerated by the Cardinals just to allow the right-hander to appear in Grapefruit League games. Reyes will not pitch in a game before the regular season starts, pitching coach Mike Maddux said on Friday.

The Cardinals continue to be cautious with Reyes, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club's top prospect and the game's 17th-best, increasing his workload in small increments since the beginning of camp. The 40-pitch batting-practice session Reyes threw on Thursday, to a mix of Major League and Minor League hitters, represented his fourth and most rigorous session of the spring. Reyes also pitched briefly in an intrasquad game last week. He is 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery.

"His command needs to pick up, but right now, it's all about health and rehab, and he's doing that," Maddux said. "It's good that we see what we do, because we know that we're not ready."

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Reyes remains on track to return by the club's soft target date of May 1, when he'll likely assume a "hybrid" role within the club's bullpen. Cardinals officials haven't decided whether Reyes will travel north with the team come Opening Day or remain in Florida to continue his rehab. What the Cardinals have decided is to ignore the temptation to push Reyes simply to see him in person in Grapefruit League play.

The risk is too great, the finish line for Reyes too near.

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"Ninety percent is what we can attain quickly," Maddux said. "The extra 10 percent will take time."

Pitchers who rake
Since he was hired to replace longtime pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in October, Maddux has been given free range to plant seeds of influence across the Cardinals' pitching landscape. That has already sprouted up in several areas, from the top of the strike zone to the sink in No. 2 prospect Jack Flaherty's new fastball.

This week, Maddux's reach extended to the batter's box, where Cardinals pitchers conducted an experiment covered with Maddux's fingerprints. With the club struggling to find its pitchers at-bats in Grapefruit League play, Maddux came up with the idea of having them hit against their teammates in batting practice.

"Unorthodox," is how Cardinals manager Mike Matheny described it. "I've never seen it before."

Video: HOU@STL: Maddux on joining Cards, team's staff

It's not unusual for position players to face live pitching on the backfields. In fact, that's what many spring mornings are for. But the Cardinals have long avoided including pitchers in such practice to minimize the risk of injuring members of their starting rotation, who are highly valuable, often highly paid and already among the most injury-prone players in the sport.

"I didn't like [the idea] at first," Matheny said. "It never occurred to me why we would do it. For everything we do, there needs to be a 'why.' And the 'why' has been very good."

Matheny said the purpose is to simulate game-speed at-bats during an exhibition season that discourages finding them for pitchers. When Matheny batted his starting pitchers in both of the club's split-squad games on Friday, it was the first time in 21 Grapefruit League games he'd done so. Come Opening Day, his starting pitcher will need to hit every day.

"Some guys will go the whole spring getting three at-bats, max," Matheny said. "We can triple that [on the backfields], help them get their timing right. We do it with guys we trust. There are some Minor League guys I wouldn't put our starters in the box against."

Maybe it was fitting that the Cardinals' longest-tenured pitcher volunteered to be the trial's first guinea pig. Adam Wainwright was all smiles when he strode into the batting turtle to face Reyes on Thursday. A day later, Luke Gregerson threw to hitters to test his strained oblique. One of those hitters was Wainwright. John Gant and Sean Gilmartin also stood in. Luke Weaver, Flaherty and Carlos Martinez then hacked away against Sam Tuivailala.

"You can play cautious, but you can't play scared," Maddux said afterward. "Am I nervous? Yes, I'm nervous every time a batter stands up there. But it's what we signed up for.

"Let's try things we don't know. You might find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow out there on the backfield."

Luke's likely return
Gregerson reported no issues after his 27-pitch session, the first official test for the oblique injury that has kept him sidelined for nearly two weeks. Gregerson could appear in a game as early as Sunday against the Nationals.

Video: Gregerson on Spring Training and upcoming season

"He looks healthy," Maddux said. "It's all a matter of the bounce back now. How he feels tomorrow will be the tell."

Signed to a two-year deal to help shore up the back end of St. Louis' bullpen, Gregerson has been limited to just one appearance this spring.

Up next
Weaver's spring quest to fine-tune his curveball continues in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. CT, when the Cardinals will face a split Braves squad on MLB.TV.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Alex Reyes