JUPITER, Fla. -- As the Cardinals begin to answer questions about their rotation and their bullpen, there are quite a few pitchers who they know can be effective in a starter’s role and a reliever’s role. Ryan Helsley is creeping up to the top of that list.
In the Cardinals’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Monday at Roger Dean Stadium, the right-handed fireballer pitched two perfect innings.
Helsley threw 22 pitches, 12 of them strikes, and even had a solid fielding play when a comebacker deflected off his glove before he made the throw to first base.
Helsley will get a few chances to start games this spring. With Miles Mikolas (right flexor tendon strain) out until possibly mid-April, the Cards could look to a long reliever as a short-term fix for the open rotation spot. And Helsley, who had a 2.95 ERA in 24 games (36 2/3 innings) last season, has emerged as a candidate for the rotation, a multiple-inning relief role or to serve as the closer.
“Valuable guy,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “A guy that’s historically been able to hold his velocity in a Minor League setting as he goes deeper into games. But clearly he is able to have high velocity with plus secondary pitches in the short outings as well. That’s really what we’re looking for in the modern game. The guys that can have versatility to compete and get outs.”
Helsley worked this offseason to reintroduce his curveball to his mix of pitches, and he threw five on Monday. It was a pitch that he threw as a starter in the Minors, but he focused more on his fastball and his cutter during his relief outings last year. He can also hit 100 mph with his fastball, making him perhaps the hardest active Cards pitcher right now with Jordan Hicks recovering from Tommy John surgery. That velocity is what makes him intriguing as a closer, but his mix of pitches and ability to sustain his velocity makes him intriguing as a starter.
“I think having that curveball, if I’m going to start -- even out of the bullpen -- if I can get a feel for it and keep a feel for it throughout the season, I think it’ll be huge for me,” Helsley said.
Helsley is competing with a number of guys for a role in either the rotation or the bullpen this year. But his versatility will help him land a role with St. Louis -- and if he’s pitching for the Cardinals, he doesn’t mind what that role is.
“Who knows, you know?” he said. “We got a lot of guys who are fighting for those two rotation spots and those few spots in the bullpen too. Spring’s really exciting right now. Lot of competition going on.”
Goldy ‘trending in the right direction’
Paul Goldschmidt, who is dealing with right elbow soreness, is throwing up to 120 feet now, Shildt said Monday. The first baseman was the designated hitter Saturday and Monday, and Shildt said there’s no timetable yet on returning Goldschmidt to the field.
With a month to go until Opening Day, the Cardinals want to make sure Goldschmidt is healthy before sending him to the infield.
“We’re definitely trending in the right direction,” Shildt said. “He’s in a good spot. No need to rush it. He’s pretty much getting there. Again, looking at the long view on it."
• Zack Thompson, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in last year’s Draft, threw nine pitches, six of them strikes, in his spring debut Monday. The first batter he faced? Marlins catcher Francisco Cervelli, who first debuted with the Yankees in 2008 ... when Thompson was 11 years old. Thompson threw a first-pitch fastball for a called strike and then got Cervelli to line out to first baseman John Nogowski.
“It was cool to compete against him and some of the other guys,” Thompson said. “Just good to get the first outing out of the way. Once I got on the mound, I just kind of flushed the nerves and got back to competing.”
• Matthew Liberatore, the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect whom they acquired this offseason, didn’t have as great of a spring debut as he would have liked. The 20-year-old left-hander gave up the Cards’ combined no-hitter with a one-out triple in the seventh inning before allowing two more hits, five runs and three walks in two-thirds of an inning.
“It’s a good experience, quite honestly,” Shildt said. “It’s a good opportunity for him. He’s in his first big league camp with us and got an opportunity to go compete. Just about, 'What did you get out of it?' More of a question for him. What did you get out of this, how are you going to move forward, then go from there? Not try to make too big a deal of it.”
The Cardinals welcome the World Series champions Nationals to Roger Dean Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. Left-hander Austin Gomber will start, followed by Alex Reyes. Then Brett Cecil, Johan Ovideo, Seth Elledge, Alex FaGalde and Tommy Parsons will throw one inning or 25 pitches. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Catch the action live on MLB.TV.