Inbox: Is Ponce de Leon staying in rotation?

July 30th, 2020

The Cardinals are five games into the 2020 regular season and heading into a weekend series against the Brewers in Milwaukee on Friday. With the first two series done and the Cardinals off to a 2-3 start, it’s a good time for an Inbox so that I can answer some questions I’ve received over the past week.

Let’s get to it:

After Miles Mikolas’ season-ending forearm strain was announced earlier this week, Daniel Ponce de Leon made a spot start Wednesday and struck out eight in 3 2/3 innings in the Cardinals’ 3-0 loss. Limited fastball command led to lengthy innings, but he was overall very effective against a powerful Twins lineup.

How the Cardinals handle this fifth spot in the rotation moving forward remains to be seen. The team wouldn’t commit to Ponce de Leon staying in that spot before Wednesday’s start.

 “Ponce is getting an opportunity tonight,” manager Mike Shildt said before the game. “I’m not going to sit here and declare he’s in the rotation for sure, but he’s definitely earned the opportunity to pitch tonight and have every consideration moving forward.”

 There are other options in the bullpen: lefties Austin Gomber and Kwang-Hyun Kim lead the pack, with Jake Woodford also a candidate. The Cardinals explained Tuesday that they wanted to keep Kim as their closer to not disrupt the bullpen they’ve set up for now. That could change as the season continues if Ponce de Leon does not stick in the rotation. The Cardinals also are considering internal and external options to add pitching depth to this season’s player pool.

With the offense looking for a spark after two quiet games in Minnesota and top prospect Dylan Carlson at the Cardinals’ alternate training site in Springfield, Mo., there were lots of questions for this Inbox about when the club might bring up Carlson to make his debut. After a week of the regular season, the 21-year-old will not get a full year of service time if he’s promoted and stays on the active roster for the remainder of the season.

The switch-hitting outfielder impressed last year as the Texas League MVP, in Spring Training and in Summer Camp, but the Cardinals are committed to giving their other outfielders -- Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas and Harrison Bader -- an opportunity first. O’Neill has taken over the left-field starting spot (3-for-15 with two home runs), and Thomas might see more playing time with Bader off to a slow start (1-for-11).

Shildt cautioned against any knee-jerk reactions to the lineup after Wednesday’s game, and the Cardinals might see if the lineup they have can get into a rhythm now that there aren’t going to be two off days a week like there were this week. It’s also important to remember that it’s going to take more than one player’s production to get the offense going. The Cardinals want to resemble the offense that they saw this past weekend against the Pirates, with production coming from the top to bottom of the lineup.

How has the Springfield camp gone so far?
-- Sam J., Nashville

Speaking of Springfield, the Cardinals have been encouraged by the results from the alternate training site so far. It’s not a normal Minor League setting, of course, but instructor José Oquendo, pitching coordinator Tim Leveque and hitting coordinator Russ Steinhorn are doing their best to recreate game-like atmospheres for players to be ready if they’re needed in St. Louis.

Right-hander Alex Reyes and left-hander Génesis Cabrera are building up their pitch counts and shaking off the rust at the Springfield camp after positive COVID-19 cases delayed their entrance into Summer Camp. In live batting practice Wednesday, both looked sharp, according to reports from some at the camp. Reyes hit 95-99 mph with his fastball and Cabrera, despite damage from Carlson (home run) and John Nogowski (double), was otherwise effective.

Based on how Reyes and Cabrera recover and progress, the Cardinals could be getting more help in the bullpen soon.

“It’s really just about checking off the boxes to get back into game-ready shape,” Shildt said Wednesday. "We’ll evaluate the roster in total based on that.”