After forearm fracture vs. Mets, Contreras set to miss 6-8 weeks

May 8th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- A Cardinals club already reeling from a languishing offense took another severe hit during a 7-5 loss to the Mets at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night, when veteran catcher suffered a fractured left forearm that will likely keep him out of action for several weeks.

Contreras, the Cardinals’ most consistent hitter all season and an improved defensive catcher, left Tuesday’s game in obvious pain after he was hit on the left forearm by a swing from slugger J.D. Martinez. Contreras immediately yelled out upon being hit and went to the ground in pain. He continued to clutch his arm while being led off the field by trainers. X-rays at Busch Stadium ultimately revealed a fracture in Contreras’ left forearm. He was placed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday morning.

“It was numb, and I knew it wasn’t right,” Contreras said. “Once I tried to do some motion stuff, there was some cracking in [the arm] and I knew it was bad.”

Contreras said after the game that he will likely have surgery on his arm in the coming days, and doctors have told him that he will likely need six to eight weeks to recover. He is already targeting the MLB All-Star Game as a potential return.

Rookie Iván Herrera replaced Contreras during the game. The Cardinals optioned third catcher Pedro Pagés to Triple-A Memphis on Sunday to make room for the return of center fielder Dylan Carlson; Pagés was removed from Memphis’ game on Tuesday night for a pinch-hitter after Contreras’ injury, and he was recalled to serve as the backup catcher behind Herrera for the immediate future.

“[Herrera] came in asking me how I was feeling, and when I said I had a fracture, he put his head down,” Contreras said. “The one thing I told him was, ‘You don’t need to put your head down; you need to pick me up.’ He’s really good, and he needs to keep the same focus he’s had since Spring Training.”

Added the 23-year-old Herrera: “I can help the team when I’m playing a lot, getting more reps and being more consistent. I’m going to try and do my best to help the team win.”

To help Contreras get more low strikes for their pitchers, the Cardinals have positioned the veteran catcher closer to the plate than he’s been in years past. Contreras has also worked on catching with one knee on the ground in hopes of getting his body and his target lower to the ground.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol acknowledged the risk that comes with coaxing catchers into positions closer to the hitters.

“It’s a huge risk, and it was talked about in the offseason and a topic in discussion because there were more [catcher's interference calls], because they are evaluated on framing,” Marmol said. “The closer they’re able to get to the hitter to get that low pitch, it’s definitely a topic of conversation. The risk is high, and we just experienced it.”

Contreras came into Tuesday 25th in the Majors in catcher framing runs, but 12th in strike rate (48.7 percent) -- a much-improved rate over last season. He’s sixth in strike rate on pitches low and away to left-handed hitters at 41.9 percent. He also ranks 24th in strike rate on strikes calls below the zone (53.8 percent).

Catcher's interference calls have soared this season as teams have coaxed catchers to get closer to the plate -- and closer to hitters -- in an attempt to get more low strikes. Coming into Tuesday, there had already been 33 catcher's interference calls in 1,058 games, per MLB research. Last season, there were 96 catcher's interference calls in 4,860 games. To put that into perspective, catcher's interference calls have come every 32 games this season compared to every 50.6 games in 2023.

“There’s always a risk being a catcher,” Contreras said candidly. “It could be my knee, I could get hit in the head for a concussion and the risk is always going to be there. I’m not blaming any part of my game because this happened.”

Martinez knew immediately that Contreras was likely badly injured based on how hard his bat hit the catcher.

“I flushed him, man,” Martinez said. “Obviously, it was not what I was trying to do. Looking at the video, he was just so close to me. He was like right on me. His glove was like on my back leg. Then, he went to reach for it. I've never hit anybody like that. I hope he gets better.”

Contreras doubled to left field in the first inning to help spark a three-run rally by the Cardinals. He came into the game as one of just three Cardinals hitting above league average with an OPS+ of 167. For the season, Contreras has hit .280 with a team-best six home runs, 12 RBIs and 11 doubles.