ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals are excited about the rest of the 2019 season, with meaningful September baseball and October on the horizon. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get excited about the future, as well.
Three young relievers are fueling St. Louis’ enthusiasm for the short and long term.
Right-handers Ryan Helsley and Junior Fernandez, along with lefty Génesis Cabrera, have added to the Cardinals’ already efficient bullpen this year, and especially this month, they have left a strong impression. All three had made appearances in the Majors this season prior to September, and each time they were sent back to Triple-A Memphis, they understood what they needed to do to get back to St. Louis.
“We have a conversation with all the players when they go back,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “What did you learn? What are you going to do different, if anything? They had some real clarity of what that looks like. And clarity’s great, it’s a starting point, but it’s about the execution of what that looks like. They’ve been able to understand it, and more importantly, they’ve been able to do something about it.”
Helsley has been essentially lights out since he was recalled on Aug. 4 -- in nine appearances, he’s given up two earned runs over 18 1/3 innings (0.98 ERA). In five games since Aug. 25, he’s pitched 10 scoreless innings, including one in the Cardinals’ 10-0 win over the Brewers on Friday. He originally was pegged as the Cardinals’ long reliever, but he’s been able to give them short, aggressive bursts, which sets him up well for more and more opportunities -- and maybe a potential postseason roster spot.
“Whatever they need me to do, I’ll be ready,” Helsley said. “I’ve done long, I’ve done short, I’ve done back to back. Whatever they need me to do.”
Fernandez hasn’t given up a run in the three outings he’s had since being recalled on Sept. 1. Saturday night’s performance against the Brewers was perhaps his most impressive, though, when he struck out Orlando Arcia and Keston Hiura swinging and Trent Grisham looking in the top of the ninth inning. He threw 12 pitches and 10 strikes.
“I had command of all my pitches,” Fernandez said. “I’m just taking advantage of the opportunities they give me, doing something with it. It feels great they trusted me in that situation. I just tried to focus and put a zero on the board.”
Cabrera was recalled on Sept. 1 and has pitched four innings in two appearances. One of those was a three-inning outing against the Giants in which he allowed three hits and struck out three. The other was Friday against the Brewers, when he walked one, but otherwise got out of the inning. Cabrera has improved his command from his spot starts in the beginning of the season, another part of how he took the opportunity back in Triple-A to become a better pitcher.
“It’s impressive,” Shildt said Saturday night. “It’s good. We’re seeing a lot of promising things from guys with Cabrera, Helsley we’ve seen, and Junior tonight. Sharp, on the plate. That’s the key for all our guys. Their stuff is really good, and it’s crisp. But Cabrera’s been on the plate, under with his misses. Same thing with Junior. You’re going to get your strikes and your outs, obviously in the zone with softer and weaker contact.”
While the three relievers help the Cardinals to the postseason, 2020 is on the horizon. Each one is hoping to take his experience and performance this year into next year.
“This game is about opportunity and taking advantage of it,” Shildt said. “Those are some pretty special arms. As far as the at-bats go, they’re not comfortable at-bats.”
The Cardinals kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month with a cultural celebration pregame. Spanish broadcasters Polo Ascencio and Bengie Molina helped host a pregame event at Busch Stadium that featured live music and former and current Cardinals players, including Bengie's brother, Yadier.
For the first time in Busch Stadium history and second time ever, the Cardinals wore their “Cardenales” jerseys, which replaces the traditional Cardinals script. The last time they wore these jerseys was June 11, 2011, against the Brewers at Miller Park.
There are 10 Latin American-born players on the Cardinals’ roster: Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico), Carlos Martinez (Dominican Republic), Cabrera (Dominican Republic), Fernandez (Dominican Republic), Giovanny Gallegos (Mexico), Edmundo Sosa (Panama), Rangel Ravelo (Cuba), Jose Martinez (Venezuela), Marcell Ozuna (Dominican Republic) and Randy Arozarena (Cuba).