ST. LOUIS -- One of the big questions surrounding the Cardinals' bullpen during Spring Training was the closer situation. They're still going to be looking for answers, at least to start the 2020 season.
On Wednesday, St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said that right-handed closer Jordan Hicks, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery he underwent in June 2019, will not be available on Opening Day, which is expected to be on July 23 or 24. The Cardinals expect Hicks to contribute at some point this season, though.
“[Hicks' plan is] in a good spot in the sense that it’s between -- it’s not overly conservative, but there’s some patience involved with the play,” Shildt said. “And the good news is Jordan has not really had any substantial setbacks. I’m super proud of the way he’s gone about it. He’s been very diligent, very consistent, very dedicated, and rehab’s not an easy thing to do, especially in the settings he’s done it.”
Hicks, 23, threw a side session on Tuesday and played catch on Wednesday, when players reported for the first day of Summer Camp. The Cardinals don’t have a specific date they want to see Hicks in games, but he'll need to face hitters in simulated games first. Shildt said the team will evaluate him “week to week” to see when he’d be ready to return.
Summer Camp schedule
The first game competition for the Cardinals will come on July 8 at Busch Stadium, the first of eight intersquad games the team will have before starting the regular season later this month. Players reported to Summer Camp on Wednesday and went through the necessary COVID-19 testing.
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak said all the players who were expected to be in camp are in St. Louis, except for those traveling from the Dominican Republic. Those players landed in Miami on Wednesday and are traveling to St. Louis from there.
The Cardinals have had one positive COVID-19 test between players and staff tested at the ballpark.
St. Louis will hold its first workout on Friday, and the club plans to hit the ground running, with pitchers facing hitters during three innings of batting practice. Shildt said he wanted nearly all 22 pitchers in camp to have one batting-practice session before appearing in a game situation, whether that’s an intersquad game or a simulated game.
The Cardinals have 21 days of Summer Camp, and Shildt outlined a camp schedule of 19 days, with one off-day scheduled and an optional workout ahead of Opening Day. Workouts will be staggered to maximize space and limit gatherings of large groups.
“The common bond of this thing is excitement with every single player and staff member,” Shildt said. “Everybody’s just excited to be able to have baseball conversations, to have baseball organization taking place and then have guys in the last several days ramping up to more of a team setting. Guys are excited, and in general, every one of our players -- position players, pitchers -- are in a really good spot to show up and start participating and getting ready for our season.”
For the first two weeks of the season, teams will be allowed to have 30 players on the active roster, and Shildt said at least 16 of those will be pitchers, possibly going up to 17 based on where individuals are in their workload as Opening Day nears. But Shildt also said that he envisions the Cardinals sticking with a five-man rotation.
The Cardinals have a presumptive rotation of Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas (who has recovered from his right flexor tendon strain) and either Carlos Martínez or Kwang Hyun Kim. Martínez trained in the Dominican Republic during the shutdown, so less is known about his conditioning than Kim, who trained in St. Louis. But the Cardinals are eager to give both an opportunity to win the spot.
“We’re going to have to somewhat declare it soon, what that looks like, but we want to reserve the first week or so to lay our eyes on guys and see how they recover,” Shildt said.
The Cardinals will also have a group of reserve starters who will likely be in the bullpen to fill a variety of roles. If a starter’s workload allows him to only go three or four innings in games early in the season, pitchers like Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Alex Reyes could come in to pitch multiple innings. Or they could appear in shorter stints.
“As far as anything formal, say that a particular pitcher is going to back up another starting pitcher, I wouldn’t expect that to happen,” Shildt said. “Will we have a plan for the backup? Yes, but it won’t be as formal as to say, 'This one particular guy will piggyback with this guy,' or piggyback with another player, when we’re going to likely have 16 pitchers ready to go in camp.”
Summer Camp South
The Cardinals plan on opening their alternate training camp in Springfield, Mo., on July 14. The team can have up to 60 players in its player pool, with those not on the active roster working out there. The Cards have only announced the names of the players training at Busch Stadium because they wanted to see how many players would be cleared to start working out Friday before announcing their entire player pool.
If everyone stays healthy, the Cardinals can add more young prospects -- like Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore -- into their player pool to work out in Springfield.
“Summer Camp South,” as Mozeliak called it, will be run by coach José Oquendo. That camp may also include some of the Cardinals’ top Draft picks from June if the team feels it has enough depth “that we would never have to call their name,” to join the big leagues this season, Mozeliak said.
“Trying to balance getting work for your prospects, but also trying to give yourself some protection if you need it, because, yes, that would be disastrous if you ended up having to take some young prospect that is probably not ready for the big leagues,” Mozeliak said. “That’s the fine line we’re trying to walk.”
• Mozeliak said third baseman Elehuris Montero, who is on the 40-man roster, will be joining the Cardinals at Busch Stadium for Summer Camp. He will increase the number of players there to 45.
• Shildt said the entire Major League coaching staff is in St. Louis and will participate this season. Pitching coordinator Tim Leveque and Minor League hitting coordinator Russ Steinhorn are also at Busch Stadium to help with Summer Camp.
• Shildt was elected to the Appalachian League Hall of Fame on Wednesday. The league announced 18 new members, highlighted by Shildt and former Cardinal Rick Ankiel, as well as former Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen, who played in the league while in the Phillies system.