With the recent addition of Kwang-Hyun Kim to the 10-day IL, the St. Louis Cardinals have just three healthy members of the rotation. Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, and John Gant as the top three options do not inspire a lot of confidence. They are much better as back-end options in the rotation. Additionally, Johan Oviedo has yet to prove that he is ready to claim a rotation spot in just his age-23 season. However, for the time being, this is what the rotation looks like.
The Cardinals do need to figure out who their fifth starter will be while Kim is injured (hopefully for the 10-day minimum). The only options that the Cardinals currently have on the roster are Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jake Woodford, and Angel Rondon.
None of these options are exciting. Ponce de Leon and his 6.05 FIP (7.02 xFIP) is the least attractive option. Jake Woodford and his 4.67 FIP and 5.34 xFIP is also unappealing. Additionally, both of these pitchers would need to be stretched out into a starting role since they have operated out of the bullpen this season. Not only would this take time, but the potential reward is not very great.
Angel Rondon at least does not need to be stretched out since he was part of the Memphis rotation. This is valuable since Kim is hopefully going to miss only two turns in the rotation. Rondon did not have the best results at Triple-A, but he did improve in his last three starts. Additionally, he did not look overwhelming in his first MLB appearance, but at the very least he did not walk a batter, and he pitched a scoreless inning.
Another reason to start Rondon is because Ponce de Leon and Woodford are known quantities. The team pretty much knows what to expect from them, and it is not much, especially in the case of Ponce de Leon. The Cardinals do not know exactly what Rondon can do at the major league level. He posted a respectable 3.97 FIP at Double-A Springfield in 2019, when he was just 21. That made him 3.2 years younger than his average competition. He was not overly impressive, but that is certainly respectable, especially considering his age. Even in Memphis this season, he was 4.2 years younger than his average competition, although Triple-A has plenty of somewhat veteran depth pieces which raise the average age.
He has been able to deal with more advanced competition at every level that he has reached. He has also done this out of the rotation. This makes him more worthy of a spot start or two than Ponce de Leon or Woodford. If he is bad then the Cardinals will have only had to deal with two bad starts and they can send him back to Triple-A when Kim is healthy. However, if he is decent then he can earn a role in the rotation, as a spot starter, or as a reliever. He has at least proven throughout the minor leagues that he can live in the strike zone. Even if he does not stick in the rotation, this could make him an upgrade over Ponce de Leon as a long reliever.
His Triple-A numbers this season are not very encouraging, but it is important to remember that it is a small sample size (23 2⁄3 innings), and that he performed well at every other level. It is not ideal that he is already forced to pitch in the majors, but now that he is in St. Louis, the Cardinals should give him a chance in the rotation, at least until Kim returns. If he pitches well, then he could take Oviedo’s role on the team since Oviedo has been unable to pitch deep into games. If he does not, then he at least gives the Cardinals an option until they can figure out how to improve the pitching staff.