The outlook is more concrete for Kim, who went down with back tightness in the middle of last week and had to be shut down for a handful of days. On Wednesday, after he played catch on Monday, Kim tossed his first bullpen session since being hampered by the ailment. Kim will have another bullpen session on Friday before facing live hitters, likely in a simulated game setting, with the hopes of getting into one Grapefruit League game before camp comes to a close.
What’s encouraging, Kim’s side session was thrown with more gusto than manager Mike Shildt and the coaching staff were expecting.
“All reports were really favorable, came out well,” Shildt said prior to Thursday’s 7-5 Grapefruit League win over the Marlins. “Jamie Pogue, one of our bullpen catchers, caught it and said it looked good, ball was moving well.”
Mikolas, for his part, ended his week-long shutdown from throwing with a catch on Wednesday. The right-hander, who has dealt with shoulder soreness, had a scheduled off-day on Thursday, but he will play catch at least one more time before a more rigid plan is mapped out. Mikolas missed the 2020 season after a July surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right arm.
Mikolas has already been ruled out for at least his first turn in the rotation, not facing batters since a live BP session on Feb. 25; Kim is trying to beat the clock -- safely, granted -- for the start of the season.
What gives the Cardinals some confidence Kim can do so is that, unlike Mikolas, the 32-year-old lefty appeared in two Grapefruit League games before his temporary shutdown, building up to 50 pitches in his last outing. Time for Mikolas is running out to make an appearance in an exhibition game, where he would likely be very limited.
“I think there's still some optimism, but we also recognize that we don't want to force anything,” Shildt said of Kim’s timeline. “We're just going to put him on the schedule that best gets him back to being healthy, and if that lines up, great. If it doesn't, then we'll adjust.”
Adjusting comes in the form of the rotation candidates the Cardinals are auditioning with two weeks until Opening Day. Daniel Ponce de Leon -- Thursday’s starter against the Marlins -- John Gant, Johan Oviedo and Jake Woodford are the prime candidates to line up behind entrenched options in Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martínez. How many are needed depends on Kim’s next steps, though the Cards have committed to a creative use of arms in 2021, if need be.
Cards announce tour de Shannon
The Cardinals on Thursday announced that they will be honoring organizational mainstay Mike Shannon over the course of the 2021 season, as the player-turned-radio broadcaster will be celebrating his 50th and final season in the booth, calling approximately 50 games this year.
The club plans to show videos of players recounting personal stories of their time with Shannon, as well as some reflection from the man himself, as part of in-game entertainment over the course of the season. More information on Shannon, a St. Louis native who played nine seasons for his hometown club, and some his greatest calls are available for listening at cardinals.com/shannon50.
“Few announcers in the history of baseball have equaled [Shannon’s] longevity in the booth,” Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III said in a statement. “As he begins his final season behind the microphone, we are honored to congratulate him on his remarkable career and join with all of Cardinal Nation to express our appreciation for what he has meant to baseball in St. Louis.”
Around the horn
• Paul DeJong continues to find himself at the plate, lacing a two-run homer in the first, now with three hits in his last five at-bats.
• Nolan Gorman is focusing his energy on impressing at second base this season after the acquisition of Nolan Arenado stymied his future at third. But on Thursday, he reminded why his bat is his “calling card,” as he put it recently, by lacing a go-ahead, two-out, bases-clearing double in the eighth inning against the Marlins.
“This guy can hit,” Shildt laughed. “That’s been the first observation I saw from him a long time ago. … He’s mature beyond his years in how he lets the game come to him.”
• Ponce de Leon, featuring a shifted approach by toeing the rubber closer to the third-base side, turned in another audition for the rotation, building up to 71 pitches and five innings. It was a tale of two types of innings for Ponce de Leon, who needed a combined 26 pitches for innings one, four and five, but 45 for innings two and three. Still, he continued to dole out positive impressions as he eyes one of the spots vacated by Kim and Mikolas.
“There are a lot of positives out of Ponce tonight,” Shildt said. “I was super encouraged by his outing.”
• Alex Reyes hit his first stumble. The righty, recently pinned to a bullpen role in 2021, conceded his first walk, first extra-base hit and first run of spring after entering the day facing 17 batters, with only two reaching base. Reyes is likely primed for high-leverage innings this season, and the Cards won’t balk at him getting some adversity out of the way in exhibitions.