Hicks, Mikolas updates; Arenado's 1st hit

March 2nd, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- All things considered, felt pleased with his performance during a live batting-practice session on Monday, his first time facing hitters this Spring Training, as the 35-year-old is being given ample time to ramp up to his normal workload.

Then he watched take the mound to do the same after him, and his excitement slightly tempered.

“It's a little demoralizing,” Miller told reporters, “because he looked incredible.”

That’s the running sentiment from Hicks’ “monumental” day on Monday, as manager Mike Shildt described it, when the right-hander faced Major League hitters for the first time since June 2019, when he underwent Tommy John surgery and then opted out of the 2020 season as a high-risk individual (Type 1 diabetes).

“Anytime you watch him throw, it's pretty eye-opening,” Miller said. “It's a lot of fun to watch. It's just a really special talent. We're all rooting for him, we know the work he's put in, and at the same time, selfishly, him being out there is going to help us win a lot of games.”

Hicks -- a flamethrower who burst onto the scene as the Cards’ closer from 2018-19 -- said that he faced some collegiate hitters over the offseason, though it was informal, inside and sans cleats. Monday was his first time in just under 21 months in full uniform, facing big league hitters on a big league mound.

The showcase being positive was one thing, but his health following suit is another encouraging sign.

“Yeah, I feel healthy,” Hicks said. “If I didn't, I probably wouldn't be throwing live BP. So I think we're in a good spot.”

“Deserving of his smile at the end,” Shildt added before Tuesday's 0-0 seven-inning tie with the Marlins, “knowing he had a long road to get to that point.”

The Cards will err on the side of caution bringing Hicks back to full speed, likely giving him another controlled outing (not a Grapefruit League game, in other words) before throwing him back against another squad. But “[he's] close, for sure,” Shildt said.

Monday was also a big day for Miller, who was a late arrival to camp because of a bout with COVID-19. He said most of the symptoms are gone -- “I can smell the coffee beans now [in the morning]” -- and felt good pitching in the Jupiter sun for “just a physical test out there, a lot of humidity and stuff.”

How the pair reacts to these sessions in the longer run -- especially Hicks -- will determine their status and role for Opening Day. Hicks is just 24, and without throwing a pitch in a game in nearly two years, the club may be hesitant to throw him back into the closer role at the onset. But with Miller, Giovanny Gallegos, Tyler Webb and even Alex Reyes, should the latter not make the rotation, the Cards don’t lack confidence in their back-end options.

There’s no lack of clarity what Hicks' goal is for this Spring Training, though.

“I do plan on competing for an Opening Day spot,” he said.

Mikolas update
Caution will be exercised for , too. The right-hander was kept out of a planned simulated game on Monday and won’t pitch again until a side session this weekend, Shildt said, giving him over a week between outings. Mikolas last pitched on Feb. 25, when he faced live batters, but he won’t be doing so next time out.

“I was probably a little early in announcing that he was going to throw in a sim game,” Shildt said. “We schedule a lot of things, and I mention a lot of times, it's just fluid. Fluid for a lot of different reasons, none of which are overly problematic. They just are fluid.”

Mikolas is returning from June surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right arm that kept him out of the 2020 season. He’s pegged to be the third starter in the Cards’ rotation, but if questions linger about his health, that could throw the club’s plans for a loop.

Around the horn
• Matt Carpenter, making his first defensive appearance at second base this spring, made a nifty sliding stop and throw in the second at-bat of Tuesday's game. He also hit leadoff, going 0-for-2 with a ball that died on the warning track. The Cards would love to have his bat in the lineup this season -- so long as he hits -- and he could force the club’s hand with Tommy Edman penciled in at second as the roster stands and without a designated hitter in the forecast.

“I’m going to get plenty of reps,” Carpenter said. “It's just a matter of, every day, going out there and just trying to get a little bit better, a little bit more comfortable.”

• Nolan Arenado laced his first Cards hit in the first inning on Tuesday, also converting on the first ball hit his way after booting his initial chance in Sunday’s Grapefruit opener.