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TA 5/23/21: Mikolas Back to IL, Fernandez Recalled

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MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cards announced the following transaction in advance of tonight’s series finale with the Cubs:

5/23/21: Placed RHP Miles Mikolas on the 10-day IL (right forearm tightness). Recalled RHP Junior Fernandez from AAA Memphis.

The return of Miles Mikolas last went reasonably well—for four innings. When he was warming up before the top of the 5th, he let the staff know that he felt something in his arm wasn’t right when he threw his slider. Daniel Ponce de Leon had to pitch in relief at the last second, and Mikolas has now landed on the injured list just one game into his comeback.

We don’t know the severity of Mikolas’s injury other than the obvious conclusion that he has suffered a setback. Any time we hear a pitcher is complaining of forearm tightness—the official explanation for Mikolas’s IL placement—we tend to leap to the conclusion that Tommy John surgery is coming. While forearm tightness is often a symptom that leads to Tommy John, that may not be the diagnosis that Mikolas ultimately receives. But it is certainly a concern. Mikolas had surgery in July of 2020 to repair the flexor tendon in his right forearm, a procedure which cost him the entire 2020 season. Flexor tendons run from the forearm to the ends of the fingers on the palm side. It would make sense that forearm pain could indicate a problem with a tendon that involves the forearm, but a flexor tendon injury is typically described as a hand injury, the major complication of which is an inability to either move or bend fingers. While forearm tightness is not typically described as symptom for a flexor tendon problem, Mikolas’s official diagnosis when he was put on the injured list in 2020 for his flexor tendon issue was a right forearm strain. All of this is to say that Tommy John is a concern, but he could also be dealing with complications from his 2020 procedure. Either way, he’s likely to be shut down for a while.

By placing Mikolas on the IL, the Cards had their choice of 40-man roster recalls and picked Fernandez. I’ve talked about Fernandez many times in these pages over the past couple of years. He features a fastball that can touch around 98 mph, a slider and a changeup that he tries to use either as a surprise pitch to get the first strike or as an out pitch. If he finds a way to put his arsenal together, he can be a devastating weapon out of the bullpen. But he must find a way to establish fastball command and get ahead in the count. Fernandez has pitched for Memphis twice since he was optioned on May 18th, striking out half of the six batters he faced with no walks.

The next question is who will take Mikolas’s spot in the rotation. Because of the IL move, the Cards could have recalled Johan Oviedo today, despite the fact that he has not yet spent 10 days on option. But the rotation spot doesn’t come back again until May 28th, so the club just decided to grab the extra reliever in the meantime. Oviedo didn’t have a good outing in his last start, walking five out of the thirteen batters he faced on May 14th. At this point, he’s still probably the preferred choice unless Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jake Woodford or Bernardo Flores, Jr. can inspire more confidence before decision time.

BULLPEN

Cabrera (L), Fernandez, Gallegos, Helsley, Ponce de Leon, Reyes, Webb (L), Whitley, Woodford