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Ponce de Leon, Martinez create much needed competition for St. Louis Cardinals pitchers

Daniel Ponce de Leon turned in one of the best starts by a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher so far this season on Tuesday night, giving the home team a much-needed boost in the starting rotation.

I haven’t lost faith in either Jack Flaherty or Dakota Hudson, despite the fact that their earned run averages are a bit lofty. I believe that young pitchers are going to go through some trials of inconsistency, but they’ll be OK in the long run. But I also believe that you can’t have too much competition when it comes to professional sports. Ponce de Leon’s strong emergency start will likely serve notice to the other members of the starting five that they need to increase their intensity and fine tune their focus because there’s someone just waiting to take their job away if they don’t.

If one of the St. Louis pitchers is eventually replaced, it’s less likely to be either of the youngsters than it is to be veteran Adam Wainwright or Michael Wacha, who both have a history of recent health problems. Wainwright has lost time to his shoulder, Achilles tendon and elbow while Wacha has battled shoulder injuries and problems with his oblique before the latest problems with his knee. Regardless of who would be replaced, it’s always good to have someone ready and waiting in the wings. Someone is always going to get hurt over the course of a long season.

The Redbirds seriously needed a boost after they were manhandled by Milwaukee the first two times they played them this season. So, Ponce de Leon’s emergency start in place of oft-injured veteran Wacha was a big deal. Now, no matter what happens Wednesday, the Cardinals will walk away with a series win. It keeps the momentum St. Louis has maintained since a clunky series opener against the New York Mets alive.

While the starting rotation has needed help lately, the Cardinals are going to have some tough decisions to make soon about the bullpen. The team announced this week that one-time ace Carlos Martinez will soon return to the major league team — and when he does, he’ll be a reliever. That is going to make it tough for top prospect Alex Reyes to get his bullpen job back after his tuneup in Class AAA Memphis is complete. But, for what it’s worth, Reyes continues to struggle with control in the minors, walking a batter an inning. The more surprising news was announced Tuesday during the broadcast: Long lost reliever Luke Gregerson, who has collected the better part of his $10-million, two-year contract while residing on the disabled list, is nearly ready to begin a rehab assignment and is throwing the ball well.

I didn’t imagine that we’d ever hear from Gregerson again. In fact, I am willing to admit that I forgot that he was still with the team for a while. I would hate to see Gregerson take a roster spot away from the likes of Reyes or Ryan Helsley, I would be intrigued if he was the pitcher we thought we were getting when the Cardinals signed him. Gregerson at his peak form would make a nice right-handed compliment to Andrew Miller in the back end of the bullpen. Prior to the shoulder injury that made a disaster out of his 2018 season, the well-traveled right-hander averaged 69 appearances a year with a 3.02 earned run average and a 3:1 strikeout to walks ratio with an average of one whiff per inning. With the exception of 2017 in Houston, he’s a guy who has historically kept the ball in the ballpark and allowed about 7.2 hits per nine innings.

Reyes is going to have to make it back to the big leagues sooner rather than later, though. He lost his rookie season twice to injury and his clock is ticking away. It’s understandable that a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery would struggle with his control. But the team needs to help him power through this and get his arm built back up so he can be a legitimate candidate to be a starter in 2020.