ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals just finished a nine-game stretch against the National League's three last-place teams. After going 4-5 in those games, they sit in third place in the NL Central with the Cubs coming to town.This weekend should serve as something a litmus test. What better way to
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals just finished a nine-game stretch against the National League's three last-place teams. After going 4-5 in those games, they sit in third place in the NL Central with the Cubs coming to town.
This weekend should serve as something a litmus test. What better way to start it off than with your Cardinals questions?
Any chance we see Dakota Hudson sometime soon?
-- Adam Mettrick, via Twitter
The club's No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Hudson would have to be added to the 40-man roster, which would typically provide a sizable barrier. However, the Cardinals essentially have a 40-man spot open with Alex Reyes out for the year but not yet placed on the 60-day disabled list. That makes Hudson's path here easier. But in reality, his arm is carving that path more than any logistical obstacles are standing in its way.
The power sinkerballing righty is barreling through Triple-A Memphis in his second stint there. He's gone 8-2 with a 2.18 ERA and just one home run allowed in 74 1/3 innings across 12 starts. He's been used exclusively as a starter for the past two seasons, and doesn't generate a lot of swings and misses. That's why I don't see him being called up to reinforce the bullpen, like Austin Gomber or Daniel Poncedeleon have recently. Hudson's future lies in the rotation, and it wasn't too long ago that we were saying the Cardinals had too many starters. Now with Reyes out and Luke Weaver struggling, Hudson's arrival could be pegged for some point this summer.
What's the leash with Kolten Wong and William Fowler? Both are still hitting under .200 in June.
-- @314fan, via Twitter
At this point, there is no sugarcoating the offensive struggles of Wong and Fowler, who are putting up punchless seasons by virtually every metric. The short answer is they've both already played themselves into part-time roles. Neither is likely to start much this weekend, when the Cubs throw two left-handed starters.
But they also present the club with two vastly different situations. Fowler, 32, is a former All-Star in the second year of a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Teams invest in free agents because they believe in them and because they want the deals to work out. Those calling for Fowler to be designated for assignment or traded don't grasp the realities of his market at this point -- or the Cardinals' financial commitment to him.
Wong is in the third year of a much team-friendlier five-year, $25.5 million contract. He's five years younger than Fowler. And unlike Fowler, he's mitigated his offensive struggles by providing surplus defensive value. Wong rates as one of the top fielding second basemen in all of baseball, which is why he'll continue to play in some capacity, whether a starter or late-game defensive replacement. The whole package -- age, cost, athleticism -- would also make Wong easier to move at this point, should the team explore that route.
On the field, finding opportunities for Fowler becomes much trickier, especially with Harrison Bader playing like his hair is on fire. Bader has gobbled up Fowler's at bats against lefties while proving a far superior defender, and he continues to turn heads with his elite speed.
I thought the comments of president of baseball operations John Mozeliak on the matter from earlier this week were very telling:
"You're trying to get people going, you try to get people opportunities. But when someone is playing well, how do you pull them out of the lineup? I think the manager is in a tough spot," Mozeliak said. "This is the big leagues. We're here to win baseball games. The big leagues is not a developmental league. At some point, you have to go with who you have the most faith in at the moment, or the hot hand."
What's the plan for Jordan Hicks' workload?
-- @CardinalsGIFS, via Twitter
I asked Mozeliak this very question earlier this week. He told me it was "a great question," which I of course found flattering. But then I remembered why people use that phrase -- not to compliment the interviewer, but to express that they, in fact, are still searching for the answer themselves.
In short, the Cardinals are still trying to figuring it out. Hicks is a unique case, given his age and the ferocity with which he delivers the baseball. A 21-year-old who throws 105 mph? Who shot up from Class A? There are literally no comps. So this is sort of new territory for everyone.
Here are the facts: Hicks is very young. His fastball eclipses 100 mph more than any other pitcher on Earth. He pitched 105 innings last year, a career high, and 60 2/3 innings the year before that. He was in high school the year prior. More facts: This season, Hicks has made 31 appearances through 68 games, throwing 35 innings. That puts him on a roughly 73-appearance pace -- exactly the number Brett Cecil made last season, tied for fourth most in the NL.
"Our hope is that he does not approach 75 appearances," Mozeliak said. "Clearly at this pace, he would be. Which is why we have to find someone else we can go to in that bullpen."
"We have to be smart," he continued. "The one problem we have right now is that he's been very successful of late in a bullpen that's struggled. So you naturally want to go to him. We have to force ourselves to manage that."
Mozeliak did not rule out the possibility of taking Hicks off the Major League roster at some point, his performance notwithstanding, to do so.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.