The Cardinals seem to be getting some positive news on pitcher health for a change.
Left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim (back stiffness) made a return to throwing on Monday, manager Mike Shildt said after a 4-2 Grapefruit League win over the Nationals. Kim, who had been kept from throwing for about five days, tossed from 90 feet on a back field during the win and is planned to extend that to 120 feet on Tuesday.
“I hesitate to tell you we're ahead of schedule to get back to throwing, but we are,” Shildt said before Monday's game. “So I will. And it could be today or tomorrow, which again is ahead of what we initially thought, so that's encouraging.”
How Kim reacts to his resumption of throwing will determine how the Cardinals forecast him in the Opening Day plans. Already, Miles Mikolas (right shoulder soreness) is ruled out for at least his first turn in the regular-season rotation, and though Kim seemed to face a similar fate when initially shelved, the outlook remains cautious but improving.
“It's going to be close,” Shildt said. “We don't want to rush him getting back for the sake or rushing him to try to force him into [that] he has to be ready by X or Y, but we also want to make sure he gets back and gets going again. … At a best-case scenario, it'll be close.”
Working in Kim’s favor is that he had built up to a much higher pitch count than Mikolas when the latter was shut down from throwing on Friday. Kim threw 48 pitches in his last start on March 8, and the back ailment flared up during the 28th pitch of his recent bullpen session, Shildt said.
“He doesn't have to start from the beginning and go through as many of the checkpoints that have to take place,” Shildt said. “That being said, he may run out of runway because there has been a somewhat setback. So he can’t ramp up [yet], but he should be getting close to back to where he was fairly fairly soon.”
Kim was initially penciled in to take his third turn in the Grapefruit League rotation on Saturday, but Daniel Ponce de Leon made his first exhibition start instead. The right-hander is one of several rotation candidates trying to make the Opening Day rotation, along with John Gant -- Monday’s starter vs. Washington -- Johan Oviedo and Jake Woodford, among other dark-horse candidates.
Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martínez are entrenched as Nos. 1-3 in the rotation amid the ailments.
Gant’s latest audition just as hoped
John Gant, who has the inside track for one of those last rotation spots, did nothing to dispel that belief on Monday. He made one mistake opposite Max Scherzer -- a sinker that Ryan Zimmerman turned on for a two-run homer -- but otherwise fortified himself as a starter with three punchouts over 4 2/3 innings -- and was one close pitch away from making it an even five frames.
With a successful history as a reliever, Gant believes his deep arsenal of pitches can allow him to thrive now as a starter, which he last did in 2018. He’s made three starts this Grapefruit League slate, with his 79 pitches on Monday the most of any starter at camp thus far.
“Definitely allows me to establish things at your own pace instead of, ‘Hey, you need to have it established this instant coming in as a reliever,’” Gant said. “... Just got two hours to work with instead of 20 minutes ... can make a whole lot happen in that timespan.”
Single-game tickets on sale soon
The Cardinals announced during Monday’s game that multi- and single-game tickets for their 13 home games in April will go on sale this week, starting with multi-game tickets on Tuesday and single-game on Wednesday, opening at 11 a.m. CT each day.
Tickets are still available for the home opener on April 8 and can be purchased at cardinals.com and over the phone at 314-345-9000; tickets are not being sold at the Busch Stadium ticket windows at this time. For health and safety, the Cardinals are selling stubs in pods, with a maximum of four, and all tickets to be delivered digitally.
Around the horn
In his first relief appearance since being named to the bullpen, Alex Reyes showed what a tantalizing option he can be as a closer. He recorded the save on only 12 pitches. All told, he's faced 17 batters this spring -- only two have reached base.
"I have no issue with Alex throwing the ninth," Shildt said. "Here's a guy that clearly has the stuff and the fortitude to do it."
• Monday had been earmarked for Dakota Hudson to play catch for the first time. And the plan went off just as hoped for the right-hander, who underwent Tommy John in late September. Hudson said recently that his hope is a return by this coming September, though it’d assuredly come in a relief role, if anything.
“It was a positive day for Dak,” Shildt said, “and it's a big day, really, that you get a chance to move your arm again. I know it had to feel good for him as a pitcher and that he was able to check a box.”
• For their off-day Tuesday, the Cards will play a five-inning simulated game, featuring a bevy of notable pitchers. Flaherty will start opposite rotation hopeful Oviedo, Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos, against hitters looking for extra work outside Grapefruit League action.