Gray exits spring game with right hamstring tightness

Matz makes strong first appearance; Hence gets out of jam

March 4th, 2024

​WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Cardinals right-hander made his second start of the spring and had to leave the game in the second inning because of right hamstring tightness in Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Nationals at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches.

There were two outs in the bottom of the second inning when Gray, 34, was facing Nationals third baseman Nick Senzel. The count was 1-1 when Gray called time out, left the game and was replaced by right-hander Kyle Leahy, who was able to strike out Senzel to end the inning. Gray was slated to pitch three innings.

“[Gray] gave me a sign to talk to him. I figured something was up,” Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras said. “… You have to be cautious at this time and not rush anything.”

Through a spokesman, Gray, who was slated to get an MRI on the hamstring later on Monday, said he won't discuss the hamstring injury until he knows more about its severity.

Before leaving the game, Gray retired four out of the five hitters he faced and recorded one strikeout.

“[Gray] was a sharper version. You could tell he was determined to do his thing and commanded the baseball. He was doing his thing,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said.

Gray is slated to be the Cardinals’ Opening Day starter when they face the Dodgers on March 28 at Dodger Stadium. Since signing his three-year, $75 million contract with St. Louis, Gray is more than just a teammate. He is a sage when it comes to pitching, and he is willing to give that insight to a younger player like left-hander Matthew Liberatore. What was the biggest thing Liberatore learned from Gray? You don’t have to nibble the corners to get hitters out.

“You can learn a lot just by watching how he goes about his business,” Liberatore said. “He is always talking. He always wants to have a pitching discussion, talk about shapes, spin and how to get guys out -- what he sees in hitters. If you just get close enough to him, you are bound to end up in a good discussion and take something away from it.”

Teammate Kyle Gibson has watched Gray over the years and has noticed the intensity Gray displays.

“It seems he goes about his business right,” Gibson said. “... His preparation is second to none. The purpose for what he does is second to none. His conversations with teammates or just me and him, he wants everybody to be the best that they can be. Obviously, he wants to win. He is someone that is able to put himself to the side enough to help somebody out in the meantime.”

Matz makes first appearance
Cardinals left-hander made his first Spring Training appearance on Monday against the Nationals. Matz retired all three batters he faced and struck out two batters in the third inning. His fastball was clocked as high as 96 miles an hour. Matz was slated to pitch in the fourth inning, but a hamstring injury to Gray forced Matz to pitch an inning earlier.

“His changeup looked good. He was underneath the zone. It was a really good version of Matz,” Marmol said.

Matz has been brought along slowly to keep him healthy for the entire 2024 season. He is in his third year with the Cardinals, and most of the time in St. Louis has found him on the injured list. In 2022, Matz was hampered by shoulder and knee issues, while he dealt with a lat strain during the second half of last year. Matz is slated to be the fifth starter when the regular season starts in late March.

“A healthy version of him is important,” Marmol said about Matz.

Hence sees action
Right-hander Tink Hence, the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Cardinals system according to MLB Pipeline, was scheduled to throw live batting practice on Monday, but that was postponed because he went with the Cardinals to West Palm Beach, Fla. to play against the Nationals.

Hence was able to see action in the sixth and seventh innings without allowing a run during the 1-0 loss to the Nationals. In the sixth inning, Hence was able to get out of the jam. With runners on first and third, Hence struck out Senzel to end the inning.

“[Hence] did a nice job. He used the fastball well,” Marmol said. “Obviously, the velocity was there. It was 98. He used it at the top at times. … He was in control.”