Little to nothing has gone according to plan for St. Louis’ rotation in 2019. Onetime top starter Carlos Martinez has settled for a relief role after shoulder weakness slowed him during the spring. Miles Mikolas, unexpectedly the Cardinals’ No. 1 starter a year ago, has taken sizable steps backward. So has Michael Wacha, whom the Cardinals demoted to their bullpen last month. Meanwhile, ex-ace Adam Wainwright and young starters Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson have produced decent bottom-line results, but no one’s confusing them with front-line options at this point.
At 30-29 and within 2 1/2 games of a playoff spot, St. Louis could reel in a rotation upgrade(s) from outside the organization via trade and/or free agency in the next couple months. As things stand, though, righty Alex Reyes might represent the Cardinals’ best chance to make a near-term improvement in their starting five. The 24-year-old has barely pitched in the majors this season, having totaled three innings in relief during the first week before the Cardinals optioned him to Triple-A Memphis. Three weeks later, Reyes fractured his left pinky while punching a wall after a minor league start. That ill-advised decision cost Reyes a few weeks, but he’s back to pitching at the minors’ highest level and could be within one start of a return to the majors, manager Mike Shildt said Tuesday (via Mark Saxon of The Athletic).
“Alex is clearly a guy who, when right, we’d like to have available if the need is there,” Shildt stated. “He’s definitely in the mix.”
It’s easy to see why the Cardinals are holding out hope for a Reyes breakthrough. Reyes was one of the game’s elite farmhands not long ago, and he justified his high rankings on top 100 prospect lists with a 1.57 ERA/2.67 FIP during a 46-inning debut in 2016. But Reyes underwent Tommy John surgery prior to 2017 and then required a season-ending procedure on his right lat last June.
Reyes’ injuries have helped prevent him from building on his initial showing in the majors, though he may get his first real opportunity to do so this year. Fellow young flamethrower Genesis Cabrera, whom the Cardinals promoted May 27 in an effort to boost their rotation, gave the team his second subpar start in as many tries Tuesday. Cabrera’s scheduled to make his next start Sunday in Chicago, but the club could go in another direction by then. Even if Cabrera does pitch against the Cubs, he may need to turn in a much-improved performance to get another start.