It’s been nearly 19 months since Cardinal fans have seen flamethrower Alex Reyes on a major league mound, and as his impending return grows closer, the question persists of how the team may plan to use him when he arrives. Speaking to the media during his pregame session Friday, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak shed light on that vision.
At least from a perspective of building up his arm for game readiness, the Cardinals plan to have Reyes prepare as a starting pitcher. While that doesn’t guarantee Reyes will be thrust into that role with St. Louis as soon as he’s eligible to return from the 60-day DL on May 28th, it does allow the team flexibility with his insertion into the pitching staff when the time comes.
“I would say all arrows point to being as a starter,” Mozeliak said. “And that’s really twofold, because we always talk about, sort of, the aggregate innings. These innings (in rehab assignments), we will use to count to his total workload. Clearly, when you’re pitching in a rehab assignment, it’s a little different than a normal start, but I still think building him up is a lot easier than the other direction.”
If the starting rotation doesn’t present any obvious candidates for replacement-due to injury or poor performance-Reyes could represent yet another talent capable of starting MLB games who doesn't have a spot to do so. The Cardinals already have one such arm stored in Memphis in Jack Flaherty, but it seems unlikely that the Cardinals burn more of Reyes’ 2018 innings total in the minors than is necessary.
Trio of injured relievers progressing toward returns
After recently welcoming Luke Gregerson to the active roster from the disabled list, the Cardinals have a few other ailing members of the bullpen with returns on the horizon. Sam Tuivailala and Ryan Sherriff are making progress in recovering from knee soreness and a broken toe, respectively, and Mozeliak expects them to begin a rehab assignment “in the near future.” Tuivailala worked out at Busch Stadium Friday.
“Threw a bullpen today, everything felt good,” Tuivailala said. “The knee feels fine, but now I’m just waiting on seeing what kind of schedule they want to do.”
The team will be in an interesting spot with these returns upcoming. While Tuivailala is out of options and would need to pass through waivers to be sent to the minor leagues, it’s conceivable Sherriff could be optioned back to Memphis if the Cardinals find themselves short on roster spots. Gregerson’s recent addition takes up another spot in a bullpen that was trimmed to seven pitchers upon Tyler O’Neill’s promotion this week.
With the Cardinals currently approaching games with only Tyler Lyons from the left-side, another lefty bullpen option beyond Sherriff could be Brett Cecil. He is expected to have a slightly longer path back to big league action in his recovery from a shoulder issue that landed him on the DL after just one regular season appearance. Cecil also joined the team late during spring, so the Cardinals plan to take it slower with him than the other relievers making their ways back.
“Obviously, he didn’t have a normal spring,” Mozeliak said of Cecil, adding that the Cardinals will “try to bring him back at a pace that we think will benefit him.” This is likely to include a lengthier stay in Jupiter for Cecil, before he progresses toward a rehab assignment and subsequent return to the St. Louis roster.
Matheny shuffles the top of Cards lineup
Friday's lineup against Cincinnati's Brandon Finnegan features Tommy Pham batting leadoff. Pham feasted on Finnegan in that spot in the lineup when he went 3 for 4, with a walk and two runs scored last Saturday in a lopsided road win over the Reds. Behind him, Matt Carpenter has shifted to the two-spot with Jose Martinez batting third.
"Definitely like getting Tommy in there, one, against the lefty, but two, kinda freeing up things in front of him," Matheny said. "We saw last time when he batted at the top of the order, no runner in front to keep him from stealing second, stealing third. Making things happen, or at least the threat of doing so. Tommy's been taking great at-bats, and we're seeing how often we can get him up there."
When asked which spot regular leadoff man Dexter Fowler-who gets the day off from the starting lineup Friday-would fit into when he returns, Matheny replied "One of them... One of the spots. We'll figure it out."
Matheny began the season using a pretty static lineup, but seemed at ease with the idea things could fluctuate a bit until he finds a match he likes. Another series with the Reds, who enter the weekend with the worst record in baseball (3-15), should make the lineup look pretty good regardless of how the manager constructs it.