Although they’re only a few games out of first place in the National League Central Division and wild card races, the St. Louis Cardinals need to think about the big picture as they try to solve the problems that are holding them back.
Team leaders hoped starting pitcher Michael Wacha’s respite in the bullpen helped him work out his bugs and get back on the right track, a result that seemed to be supported by his first start back against the Miami Marlins. But he followed that appearance with an dreadful start against the New York Mets. He allowed five earned runs (six overall) on seven hits and a walk in four innings of work to leave his earned run average at a dismal 6.00 for the season.
Fans are already speculating perennial prospect Alex Reyes will soon bump Wacha from the starting five for the Cardinals. But I don’t know if that knee-jerk reaction is what’s best for the long-term prospects of this team.
In his comeback year after elbow ligament replacement surgery, Reyes just hasn’t been very good. He struggled terribly with his command at spring training. Then he started the season in the St. Louis bullpen where he amassed a 15.00 earned run average before he got the quick hook and was demoted to Class AAA Memphis. There, Reyes’ return to the big league was delayed by his unfortunate run-in with a wall after a disappointing outing in the minors.
Overall, Reyes has allowed 20 walks and 16 hits in 22 innings at the Class AAA level.
Bottom line, while Tommy John Surgery has become pretty reliable over the years, sometimes guys just take a year of pitching before they regain their touch for pitching before they are ready to perform. I would hate to see Reyes, who has spent so long on the shelf already because of various maladies, injure himself physically trying to find another gear to get hitters out and reclaim his career. I also would hate to see the guy’s confidence destroyed because he’s trying to pitch with one arm tied behind his back.
Maybe Reyes will suddenly come around this year. And if he does, that would be great. But what happens next with Reyes should be entirely dependent on his health and well-being, not on the needs of the team. It’s easy to dream that Reyes could make like Jordan Bennington and ride in out of nowhere to save an underwhelming season. But Reyes isn’t a promising kid who is healthy. He’s a star-crossed guy who has shown the front office what he is capable of — if only he could somehow stay healthy.
In short, if Reyes has another significant injury, his Cardinals career is probably on the ropes. I’d rather see his dream of pitching in the big leagues delayed out of safety than denied by an injury. That’s why the team needs to handle Reyes like it did with Adam Wainwright when he had Tommy John surgery: Build up his arm and limit the number of pitches he’s allowed to throw instead of dumping him from the frying pan into the fire. With the way he’s pitched so far, it would be downright reckless for the team to collectively shrug its shoulders and turn Reyes into cannon fodder.
Ideally, the Cardinals would put Carlos Martinez back into the rotation. But I imagine, since the team was so quick to put him in the bullpen after he had alarming weakness in his shoulder in spring training, that the team doesn’t, in fact, think he’s healthy enough to be a starter. So, the club ought to look to either Daniel Ponce De Leon or Genesis Cabrera — unless they make a bold move to go outside the organization to get the assistance they need.
Gambling with Reyes doesn’t make any sense for a team that seems to be more than one player away from being a contender.
Unless this team goes out and gets a front of the rotation starter and figures out how to make the offense work together, the Cardinals chances of breaking their playoff dry spell are weak and their chance to doing anything in the postseason if they did make it would be even slimmer.
So why tear up a kid who could help the club win next year and beyond and risk taking him out of action yet again?