photo: Mike Shildt via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Following Monday’s live batting practice at Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt began to share roster decisions that define key roles on his pitching staff to open the shortened 60-game 2020 schedule.
It begins with the starting five, behind previously-announced members Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright. Dakota Hudson is the number three with Miles Mikolas and Carlos Martinez completing the rotation.
The first three will take the ball in the home opening series against the Pirates, with Mikolas and Martinez, whose final tuneup will be in Wednesday’s exhibition game, taking the first two road games of the season, in Minnesota next Tuesday and Wednesday.
This formalizes what Shildt had been foreshadowing for days. Martinez is in the rotation, and with no other openings available, Kwang-Hyun Kim is not.
Due to shoulder problems, Martinez’ last start was in the summer of 2018, but ever since, the right-hander has expressed a preference to return to the rotation. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the 28-year old had been one of the league’s best, earning National League All-Star berths in 2015 and 2017. But he needed to earn back the confidence of the staff that he could handle the rigors of starting.
At the end of last season, they had challenged Martinez to take seriously every day his preparation for starting. And Martinez has been meeting every expectation – in the offseason, in Spring Training 1.0, during the downtime and in Summer Camp – and therefore, deserves to start. Shildt had mentioned this multiple times prior to Monday’s official announcement.
As a result, there is no room for Kim among the starting five – despite the lefty having pitched very well in camp himself. The surprise is the Korean’s new role – to close games.
Even with upcoming days off, the manager said he is inclined to not skip over any of his five starters, but will take the rest benefit the schedule offers. St. Louis only plays five of the first seven days of the season before hitting a block of 14 straight games. Rather than starting, Kim will use this time to get accustomed to his new assignment.
All along, Kim, who was signed to a two-year free agent contract over the winter, seemed to be rotation insurance. That could have been for Martinez if he did not check all the boxes or when Mikolas experienced arm problems this spring, Kim could have stepped in for him. Same if one of the other starters hit a bump in Spring Camp. But with all five rotation veterans ready to go, Kim will have to wait to assume the starting role he also prefers.
In the meantime, Kim will step in to the void at the back end of games created when Giovanny Gallegos was late to report to St. Louis for an undisclosed reason. All through Summer Camp, Shildt expressed a hope that someone would step forward and take the end-of-game role, and on Tuesday added that he wants a closer with experience in high-pressure situations.
While Kim has that from his long career in the KBO, his closing has been limited to a few late-season situations. However, Shildt said he likes Kim’s ability to warm up quickly, his strike-throwing, which results in low walks, a high ground ball rate, and his multiple pitches to get out both righties and lefties, with the latter especially important with the new three-batter minimum.
Kim’s first outing in his new role will be in Tuesday night’s 5:15 p.m. intrasquad game, which should be the final contest of the spring streamed on cardinals.com. Kim will pitch the back end of the game for the home team. Hudson will be the starter for the home Red. For the Blue “visitors,” it will be a bullpen game, with the duration being eight or nine innings, depending on the efficiency of the pitching.
Other roster news
Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon, two homegrown pitchers who had also been in the starting competition, though at much lower odds than the aforementioned six, have been told by Shildt that they have officially made the Opening Day roster. Both will play a variety of roles out of the bullpen. Most recently in camp action, each threw a single inning as they transition into relief, but could still be asked to pitch multiple innings depending on the situation.
Though Shildt did not explain why, he said it is “highly unlikely” the Cardinals will open with 17 pitchers (and 13 position players). A simple review of the count of healthy arms makes the math clear.
The manager said that even though Gallegos had been throwing in Mexico while unable to return to St. Louis, it would be “unfair” to restore him to his prior closing role out of the gate. If fact, with Gallegos having not yet pitched in a camp game, remaining on the injured list for a period of time seems the most likely outcome.
Further, Alex Reyes and Genesis Cabrera missed at least two weeks of throwing each and will need even more time than Gallegos to ramp up. This suggests that Jake Woodford, Junior Fernandez and Kodi Whitley are all strong candidates to fill out the back end of the bullpen on Opening Day.
On the position player side, the 14th spot could be the third catcher. Andrew Knizner has enjoyed a good camp.
Final roster cuts are not expected until the completion of Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Kansas City Royals. The 3:05 p.m. contest will be on FOX Sports Midwest.
For members of The Cardinal Nation
This past weekend, I wrote a detailed article outlining my projections for the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster. So far, it is playing out as expected. The one exception is that while I had Kim in the pen, I did not foresee him getting the ball in the late innings.
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Full roster detail at The Cardinal Nation
To view the two Summer Camp rosters and to track the status of the Cardinals’ 60-man pool, 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.
Detailed team rosters for the entire system can be accessed via the red menu column at the top left (see “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES”).
As manager Mike Shildt and selected players meet with the media after daily Summer Camp practices, summaries of their comments are posted on The Cardinal Nation’s free message board. (A userid is not required to read forum comments.)
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