Notes: Ponce de Leon's role, Hudson, Hicks

July 4th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- ’s career as a Cardinal has prepared him for what his role might be in this shortened, 60-game season. He’s started. He’s been a long-inning reliever. He’s come out of the bullpen in short stints. Whatever greets him this season, he’s prepared for it.

“I can do whatever as long as I’m playing,” Ponce de Leon said Saturday after he threw live batting practice at Busch Stadium.

The right-hander will compete for a starting spot in Summer Camp and could be used as a reserve starter or a long-inning reliever as starters get ramped up to begin the season. He used the time off to tweak his cutter and curveball grips. He still shows off his elevated fastball and is working through his changeup. He flashed all four pitches in two innings against hitters Saturday.

To stay ready during the time off, Ponce de Leon played catch at a local park where he lives in Florida with AJ Cole, who is a non-roster invite with the Blue Jays. On Tuesdays and Fridays, he threw bullpens at Stetson College with a group of Major Leaguers, and he threw two live batting practices the week players found out baseball was back against Orioles outfielder Austin Hayes and Mets catcher Patrick Mazeika. On Saturday, Ponce de Leon said he could go three or four innings right now.

Ponce de Leon is even more confident now than he was in spring, when he struck out 12 in 13 innings. After the breakthroughs he made, he said he was “bummed” to stop when Spring Training was halted, but he quickly got into the swing of a new routine and used the time effectively.

“I was on a good roll,” Ponce de Leon said. “I’ve learned that throughout my career that there’s literally nothing you can do. Then a week later I was in the swing of my offseason-ish program, just trying to maintain some kind of high level. Mentality wasn’t terrible for me. It actually was a blessing. I got to spend so much time with my family.”

Hudson benefits from smooth delivery

While some players got together with others around the league to get work in throughout baseball’s shutdown, had a net, a throwing pad and his brother-in-law for company during workouts. The Cardinals right-hander stayed in Kansas City with his family, kept in contact with the Cardinals via Zoom calls and got his workouts in using garage space. His brother-in-law is a pitcher at the University of Kansas, so Hudson was able to enlist him as a long toss partner.

Saturday was Hudson’s first live batting practice against his teammates. In two innings alternated with Ponce de Leon, Hudson faced Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, Dexter Fowler, Paul DeJong, Matt Wieters, Harrison Bader and Kolten Wong.

“Throwing to a pad is a lot different than throwing to Yadier Molina,” Hudson said. “It’s a lot more fun, too. So just having that competition out there and throwing to some of your own teammates. It’s a lot of fun and had kind of a college vibe out there with the competition in house.”

Hudson spent time over the offseason working on smoothing out his delivery to cut down on the walks that hurt him last season, and he was able to show some of that work in Spring Training. When everything shut down, he went back to work on the delivery and said he’s found more consistency in his command because of it. The goal for this year is still the same.

“I feel comfortable with what I’m doing,” Hudson said. “ I was trying to mess with some stuff at the end of last year, and going into spring this year, I was able to show it off a little bit. From here on, I just felt like that off time was me engraving it.”

Worth noting

, on the mend from Tommy John surgery last June, threw a bullpen in the visitors' dugout at Busch Stadium on Saturday. Manager Mike Shildt said that Hicks is “feeling good,” but Shildt hadn’t heard more about how the session went when he talked to reporters after Saturday’s workout.