In between games of their doubleheader with the Reds today, the Cardinals activated left-hander Steven Matz from the 15-day injured list. Taking Matz’s spot on the 15-day IL is Jordan Hicks, as the right-hander has been sidelined by both arm fatigue and neck spasms. Hicks’ placement is retroactive to September 15.
After signing a four-year, $44MM free agent deal during the winter, Matz’s first season in St. Louis has largely been lost to injury — first a shoulder impingement, and then a torn left MCL suffered in his first game back aftr that prior IL stint. Given the initial concern following the MCL tear, it is somewhat remarkable that Matz is back at all in 2022, but he will be able to work out of the bullpen rather than as a fully built-up starting pitcher.
Beyond just the health woes, Matz’s misfortune extended to his work on the mound. Despite a very good 4.8% walk rate and 27.4% strikeout rate over his 42 2/3 innings of work this season, Matz has only a 5.70 ERA. His 3.13 SIERA is far more favorable, yet Matz hasn’t received much batted-ball luck, as evidenced by his .336 BABIP.
Those struggles will be just a memory, however, if Matz is able to contribute as a reliever for a Cardinals team that looks bound for the playoffs, thanks to an eight-game lead in the NL Central. Getting Matz in the bullpen may help make up for the loss of Hicks, who also missed about five weeks earlier this season due to a flexor strain.
Injuries have plagued Hicks in the past, including a Tommy John surgery in 2019 and a lengthy absence due to elbow soreness last season. His flexor strain this year ended the Cardinals’ experiment with Hicks as a starting pitcher, and while his advanced metrics are better since his move back to the bullpen, he has only a 4.50 ERA over 34 innings as a reliever, after posting a 5.47 ERA over 26 1/3 innings out of the rotation. It all adds up to a 4.92 total ERA, and one of the league’s worst (13.6%) walk rates. Between this performance and now the injury concern, it remains to be seen if the Cards will include Hicks on their postseason roster.