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Jordan Hicks’ injury underscores just how weak the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff is

Cardinals GM talks about Carlos Martinez’s 5-year extension

John Mozeliak talks about the five-year, $51-million contract extension given to St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez.
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John Mozeliak talks about the five-year, $51-million contract extension given to St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez.

The loss of 22-year-old St. Louis Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks to a torn UCL means the team has little choice other than to go outside the organization to add some pitching help.

But the team doesn’t need another closer. The Cardinals need to get serious about adding a front of the rotation starter to the mix.

Why? Well Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes were both guys thought to be able to fill the team’s desperate need for a front of the rotation pitcher. But both of them have been held back by healthy issues in 2019 and it seems that they’ll be limited to being able to help in the bullpen — if they’re able to help at all.

Martinez was held back in spring training when he arrived at camp with signs of shoulder weakness. Reyes hit the wall at the end of spring training and was absolutely awful as the season started, struggling to find control until — and beyond — the point that he was demoted to Class AAA Memphis. The star-crossed hurler then set himself back when he punched a wall after a rough minor league appearance, breaking his left pinky. Finally, he was pulled during his last start with what has been described as a pectoral muscle issue.

The Cardinals have implied that the injury is nothing to be concerned with. But the team said Hicks had a cramp, then a wee bit of tendinitis before it finally admitted it was a catastrophic injury that will keep the fireballer out for a year. So, pardon me if I don’t take a lot of comfort in the club’s reassurances. As far as I am concerned, we’ll be lucky if Reyes contributes to the bullpen in any way. But, with the season nearly half gone, I can’t imagine he will suddenly regain his command and parachute in to be the ace in St. Louis.

It seems obvious from the way he has been handled the last two years that the Cardinals don’t think Martinez’s shoulder can handle the rigors of throwing 100 or so pitches every fifth day. The team has babied him and kept him in the bullpen to throw in short bursts. While he can’t handle long outings, Martinez still has dynamic stuff and the ability to get hitters out in a pinch. Plus, he’s experienced and battle hardened. In short, he’s got what it takes to slam the door in the ninth innings as a closer.

John Gant is Plan C as a starting rotation candidate. He could probably do a decent job, although he’s not really an ace. But if you move Gant out of the bullpen, you’ve just taken away its best weapon so far this season. The Cardinals aren’t going to get near as much bang for their buck out of Gant in the rotation as they would with him pitching out of the bullpen. If anything, he could use fewer innings instead of more. He has buckled this month under the stress of the demand placed upon him by the fact that St. Louis starters don’t go deep into games.

So, what the Cardinals need is to leave the pieces in the relief corps that they planned to shift to the rotation in the bullpen where they belong. Instead, the team needs a top of the rotation starter — or two — who can pitch deeper into games, take some of the stress off of relievers and give the Cardinals a chance to win more games during the regular season. If that plan is successful, that starter or two would anchor the staff in short series, pitching the most important games.

As I’ve discussed before, the most logical answer to the Cardinals’ rotation problem is making a trade for a guy like Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants, or Zack Grienke of the Arizona Diamondbacks. If the Cardinals could add one of those guys without giving up guys who are contributing at the major league level this season, they’re not only going to make one spot in the rotation better, they’re going to push everybody down a spot, making all five spots better while taking heat off the bullpen.

Not only is the rotation not good enough as it stands, but it’s only going to get worse. While Dakota Hudson has pitched much better lately, it wouldn’t shock me with their injury history to see either Adam Wainwright or Michael Wacha go down with arm trouble. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see them both have to go onto the injured list for a stretch. Even if they don’t, the odd man out of the rotation could be added to the bullpen mix as a long reliever.

The only thing that isn’t an option if this team plans to be competitive in 2019 is to stand pat and not get any pitching help.

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