The Cardinals will open the season with former closer Jordan Hicks as their No. 5 starter, reports John Denton of MLB.com (Twitter link). The flamethrowing sinkerballer has appeared in 112 Major League games but will be making his first big league start whenever he takes the mound this year.
There’s been talk of bringing Hicks to camp and stretching him out as a starter dating back to late last season, but it’s nevertheless something of a surprise that he’ll be tabbed for rotation work to begin the season. Were it not for injuries to Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes, Hicks may well have opened the year as a member of the St. Louis bullpen once again, but instead it seems he’s beaten out offseason additions Drew VerHagen and Aaron Brooks for the final starting job behind Adam Wainwright, Steven Matz, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas.
Working as a starting pitcher isn’t an entirely foreign role for Hicks, it should be noted. He appeared in 37 minor league games before making his big league debut, and 34 of those came out of the rotation. The Cards are still in the process of building Hicks up, as Denton adds that the Cards are hoping he’ll be able to complete two to three innings his first time out against the Royals next Tuesday.
The move of Hicks into the rotation comes on the heels of a two-year stretch in which the right-hander has thrown just 10 Major League innings. The 25-year-old righty underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2019, sidelining him for the remainder of that season and setting the stage for a return in summer of the 2020 season. Of course, the 2020 season wound up not even beginning until late July. Hicks, who had experienced a slight setback in his rehab and was deemed a high-risk individual due to Type 1 diabetes, opted out of that 2020 season, citing health and safety concerns.
He returned to the mound early in the 2021 campaign but landed back on the shelf just a month into the season, due to soreness in his surgically repaired right elbow. Hicks was initially shut down from throwing for a six-week period, but he wound up unable to resume throwing until late August. At that point, the Cardinals opted for a cautious approach to his rehab rather than rushing him back and dropping him into the middle of a postseason push. Hicks did pitch in a pair of games in the Arizona Fall League, and he’s been healthy enough this spring that the Cards feel comfortable pushing him in a new role.
Whether the move to a starting role is permanent or not remains to be seen, but it’s easy to see why the Cardinals are intrigued by the idea of Hicks shouldering a larger workload. The right-hander is one of the game’s most electric talents, averaging a blistering 100.6 mph on a sinker that has helped him post a 63% ground-ball rate in his career. Hicks doesn’t rack up strikeouts quite like some might expect for a pitcher with his velocity (22.5% strikeout rate), and his 13.4% walk rate is a bit concerning. Still, a ground-ball pitcher with this type of velocity and the Cardinals’ all-world infield defense behind him could take his game to a new level if he’s healthy and able to work a notable slate of innings in 2022.