Tyler O’Neill is back on the injured list, as the club put him on the 10-day IL before this evening’s contest with the Brewers due to a left hamstring strain. Lars Nootbaar was recalled from Triple-A Memphis to take his place on the active roster, while utilityman Brendan Donovan kicked out to left field for tonight’s game.
The team didn’t provide a timetable for O’Neill’s recovery. It’s the latest in what has been a very disappointing season for the slugging outfielder. He lost a couple weeks in May battling a right shoulder impingement, and he’s not been as productive as anticipated even when healthy. Through 185 plate appearances on the season, the 26-year-old (27 on Wednesday) owns a .241/.292/.361 slash with only four home runs. That’s on the heels of a 34-homer campaign, and O’Neill’s had a rather startling dip in batted ball quality (barrel rate, hard contact rate, etc.) to go along with the lesser results.
Donovan figures to step in fairly regularly in left in O’Neill’s absence. The lefty-hitting rookie has a .315/.424/.434 mark through 170 plate appearances. That relatively quiet excellence has earned him a spot in the regular batting order, although manager Oli Marmol has had to shuffle Donovan around the diamond with Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman, Tommy Edman and Nolan Arenado serving as the primary infield.
Nootbaar and the righty-hitting Juan Yepez will likely also cycle through the corner outfield and designated hitter. Veteran Corey Dickerson was signed to a one-year deal over the offseason to play a similar role, but he’s been out for a couple weeks with a calf strain. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that Dickerson felt continued discomfort after a rehab appearance in Memphis last Thursday, causing him to transition to non-game activities for a few days. The hope is he could resume the rehab stint as soon as tomorrow.
Dickerson would be joined by Jordan Hicks, who is set to start a rehab assignment of his own there tomorrow (relayed by Katie Woo of the Athletic). Hicks has missed the past three weeks with a forearm strain in his throwing arm, the latest issue for a pitcher who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and missed two months with elbow inflammation last season. It’s a welcome development that Hicks is set to return to the mound in relatively short order this time around.
Woo adds that the club is planning to deploy Hicks out of the bullpen. The flamethrowing righty worked exclusively in relief for the first few seasons of his major league career, spending a chunk of the 2018-19 seasons as the club’s closer. He surprisingly lengthened out into a starter this year and cracked the season-opening rotation, making his first seven big league starts (in nine outings) before landing on the IL.
Hicks had a rough showing in that role, though, posting a 5.02 ERA through 28 2/3 innings. He’s struck out a decent 23% of opponents while racking up grounders on more than half the batted balls against him, but he’s also struggled significantly to throw strikes. Hicks walked almost 16% of batters faced, and the club seems set to transition him back to his more familiar relief role.
That could suggest Andre Pallante is ticketed for a longer look in the rotation. The rookie right-hander opened the season in the bullpen, but he’s started three of his four most recent appearances. Pallante, who started in college and in the minor leagues, reached 5 2/3 innings yesterday against the Red Sox — suggesting the Cards are comfortable with him turning lineups over at least twice in an outing.
The rest of the starting staff is established, with Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright making a strong top four. Offseason signee Steven Matz is on the IL with a shoulder injury, but Pallante seems to be settling into the #5 role. Former first-round pick Zack Thompson is also on the active roster and has worked as a starter this season with Memphis, but it appears the club views him as a primary relief option at the major league level for now. Marmol indicated this afternoon that Thompson could see more higher-leverage work moving forward (via John Denton of MLB.com).