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TA 4/17/21: Kim Activated to Make First Start, Whitley Optioned

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MLB: New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Cards just announced the following transaction in advance of this afternoon’s game:

4/17/21: Optioned RHP Kodi Whitley to the ATS. Activated LHP Kwang Hyun Kim from the 10-day IL.

Kim was one of the planned starters to open the season, but he came down with a back injury in camp. After serving as the closer for one game last season, Kim pitched started seven games for the club. Despite his 1.62 ERA, Baseball Prospects rated Kim as one of the Cards’ worst pitchers in 2020 by its DRA (Deserved Run Average) metric, giving him a 5.41, which was the second worst mark given to a Cardinal pitcher, ahead of only Carlos Martinez. Why? Simply put, BP just didn’t buy his season and chalked a lot of it up to luck.

While his FIP was even better than Jack Flaherty’s, his whiff% of 18.3 was the lowest on the staff except for Rob Kaminsky. Ditto for his 15.6% strikeout percentage. He allowed line drives at a 32% clip, and his BABIP allowed was an absurdly low .217. His Statcast metrics show that he had unimpressive spin on his pitches. Kim was a pitcher that batters had never seen in person before, he’s got some deception to his game, and maybe the fact that he was in the 84th percentile in both Hard Hit% allowed and Barrel% bodes well for the future.

Even if we do see some serious regression from last season as BP expects, it doesn’t make a difference right now. What the Cards need are innings, and if he can provide those while not getting crushed and keeping hitters off balance a bit, he’s a welcome addition, if for no other reason than that he pushed Daniel Ponce de Leon to a bullpen role.

The option of Kodi Whitley was the expected roster move, as he is not only the lowest right-hander on the totem pole, but he just pitched 1.2 innings last night and would not have been available today anyway. The Cards have used Kim’s roster spot for four pitchers now: Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo, Kodi Whitley and now Kim. With Ponce in the bullpen as the long man, the move takes the club down to 8 relievers, and the club is in a minor trickbag in terms of the relief corps.

Jake Woodford was optioned on April 11th, and isn’t available for recall until April 21st. Johan Oviedo was optioned on April 13th and can’t come back until April 23rd. Oviedo will probably be recalled on that day because that day begins a stretch of 17 consecutive games without a day off. The club has confirmed that Oviedo will be used as a 6th starter during that stretch so that the club can continue to give the other starters five days of rest. The problem is, Woodford and Whitley are already at the ATS, so who does the club send down to accommodate Oviedo at that point? The club surely wouldn’t want to option Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, Jordan Hicks, or Alex Reyes, and they can’t option Andrew Miller, Ponce or Tyler Webb. That would leave Ryan Helsley at risk, but would the club really want to option him and lose him for at least 10 days just so Oviedo can pitch every 6th day?

What will likely happen is that the club will go to a 14-man pitching staff at that point, which would leave either John Nogowski or Scott Hurst the most likely candidates to be sent down. Nogowski would probably be the play, because if the club options Hurst, there’s no hope for backup outfield defense. Either way, there aren’t a whole lot of good options, and if the starters don’t go deeper into the games soon, the club will probably be forced to option better pitchers for lesser pitchers just to get some fresh arms in the pen.

ROTATION

Flaherty, Wainwright, Martinez, Kim, Gant

BULLPEN

Cabrera (L), Gallegos, Helsley, Hicks, Ponce de Leon, Miller (L), Reyes, Webb (L)

BENCH

Knizner, Sosa, Nogowski, Dean, Hurst