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Cardinals being careful with Hicks' usage

September 23, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- Their starting rotation anchored by rookies, the Cardinals, more than any other team, have had to walk something of a tightrope road back to contention. Behind the scenes, Cardinals brass has spent large chunks of the last few months brainstorming ways to strike a balance between short-term

ST. LOUIS -- Their starting rotation anchored by rookies, the Cardinals, more than any other team, have had to walk something of a tightrope road back to contention. Behind the scenes, Cardinals brass has spent large chunks of the last few months brainstorming ways to strike a balance between short-term goals and the long-term health of their young arms. Their solutions have been subtle -- an extra day of rest here, a spot starter there -- mapped out with an eye toward protecting Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber, John Gant and Dakota Hudson, all of whom have either approached career-high workloads or eclipsed them.
Then there is Jordan Hicks, who presents an entirely unique challenge. While the Cards' position in the standings may complicate things, managing young starters' workloads is nothing new for St. Louis, or any team. Flaherty, Gomber, et al, all have comps. But there is little precedent for Hicks, given his age, experience, and stuff.
A converted starter, the hard-throwing 22-year-old jumped from Class A to the Majors to throw 75 innings so far this season. That's down from his career high of 105 set last year, but those came bunched in 22 appearances. This season, Hicks has made 70 appearances, which entering Sunday led the Cardinals and ranked tied for ninth among National League relievers. He is tied with Roberto Osuna of the Astros and three others as the youngest pitcher to ever log 70 appearances.
"This has been a way higher workload [than last year]," Hicks said. "This has been more intense, more of a grind."
All of which is why Mike Shildt conceded this weekend that, with a possible October run in the works, it was "fair" to wonder what the coming weeks could look like for Hicks. The rookie has been the Cards' most consistent reliever, and his triple-digit sinker profiles as a possible postseason X-factor, should St. Louis get there.
"We're mindful of everyone's health, but clearly with Jordan, we're a little more mindful," Shildt said. "I don't think Jordan has any restrictions. I don't see any limitations on him moving forward."
To ensure that, Shildt has been careful not to call on Hicks recklessly this month, though he hasn't hesitated to deploy him in tie games or with a lead due to what he called the Cards' "highly competitive state." Hicks has not pitched in back-to-back days in three weeks and recently went six days between appearances. He's on pace to pitch less in September than any other month.
"He's been allowed to take a deep breath, catch himself, and hit a bit of a reset button," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "We've very cognizant of his usage. ... As for a blanket statement about it, we don't have that. But we certainly want to be careful and understand the value he brings to us."
Wong sits again, sparking roster move
As Kolten Wong's hamstring tightness lingered, keeping the second baseman out of the lineup for a second consecutive day Sunday, the Cards added infielder Edmundo Sosa to the active roster in a move Shildt said "increases our flexibility across the board."

Shildt called the promotion of the club's No. 15 prospect an "independent move" to provide "general insurance," unrelated to Wong. But the timing is telling. By recalling Sosa, who played second, third and shortstop in the Minors, the Cards added an infielder who could be useful should Wong miss any part of the season's final week.
Shildt said no MRI has been scheduled for Wong, who continues to receive treatment for the cramps that forced his early exit from Friday's 5-3 win. Sosa, 22, hit .270 with 12 home runs across two levels this season, including .262 with five homers in 56 games at Triple-A Memphis. Shildt indicated he would likely receive pinch-running assignments or contribute as a defensive replacement late in games.

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