With the exception of Adam Wainwright, the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting pitchers struggled in their first starts of the spring. However, it is too early to panic as there is still plenty of time for these pitchers to get settled into a rhythm. There is still some reason for concern, though, as there appear to be some health risks among the Cardinals starters and potential starters.
To begin with, Miles Mikolas has yet to face live hitters as he is still dealing with a forearm injury that he suffered in 2019. Additionally, Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez have plenty of injury concerns, and Martinez was especially wild in his spring debut. Finally, Kwang-Hyun Kim’s fastball average just under 88 miles per hour in his first start, which is two miles per hour less than his average fastball last season.
The early signs from Mikolas and Kim are concerning, while the concerns with Martinez and Reyes will not go away until they prove that they can pitch a full season without getting hurt. However, it is still possible that these pitchers could recover and have solid seasons. It is simply too early to tell if Mikolas will stay healthy and Kim will recover his fastball velocity and Reyes and Martinez will have the stamina to last a full season in the rotation.
With all these concerns, however, it is good that the Cardinals have plenty of rotation depth. If injuries or ineffectiveness happen among the previously mentioned group, then the Cardinals have players like Daniel Ponce de Leon, John Gant, Johan Ovideo, and Jake Woodford who can all fill in. Additionally, the Cardinals may have one or both of Reyes and Martinez begin the year in the bullpen, and if they can stay healthy, then they would be options to take starts when someone gets hurt.
Even though some of these players may be better suited in a bullpen role, it is encouraging that the Cardinals have enough depth to cover for injuries or ineffectiveness in the starting rotation.
There is a chance that these are simply early spring worries, and that the Cardinals starting arms will get stronger as the season gets closer. If Kim can regain his velocity and Mikolas can begin to throw to live hitters without any discomfort or soreness, and Martinez can find the strike zone, and Reyes can stay healthy, then the Cardinals will have much less concern entering the season. However, besides saving money, the Cardinals likely did not sign Jake Odorizzi, because they are comfortable with their rotation depth. Thus, if injuries do occur, then it seems that the Cardinals will still be able to get solid performances from their internal options.
This is a strong position to be in, and it should help the team as it re-adjusts to a full season. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how the spring develops. The three key pitchers who need to show that they are healthy and effective are Mikolas, Kim, and Martinez. If these three pitchers can have good springs, then the team will likely be much more comfortable with its position heading into the regular season. If not though, then the team will need to adjust, and it will be a good opportunity for someone like John Gant or Johan Oviedo to step up.
This rotation depth will likely prove to be valuable to the Cardinals, and it could make the difference between winning the division and fighting for a wild card spot in what will likely be a tightly contested NL Central. Starting pitching has always been a strength of the Cardinals, and it likely will be again in 2021 as someone new will get a chance to breakout in the rotation.