We have a week’s worth of games to catch up on. We’re not doing that this morning.
We have the wonderful weekend with Albert Pujols to discuss. We’re not doing that this morning either. (If you are really interested in that, both Meet Me at Musial and Gateway to Baseball Heaven might float your fancy.)
Unfortunately, what we are talking about today is Jordan Hicks. Normally, that’s not an unfortunate topic of conversation. While Hicks hasn’t been perfect this year, he’s usually fun to watch and the results are usually to the positive for the Cardinals.
Hicks left Saturday’s game with an out left to get and the initial diagnosis was that it was some tendinitis and rest was all that he was going to need. With a couple of off days this week, the Cardinals were trying to decide if they should put him on the IL or just ride it out. Mike Shildt was quoted after the game as saying,
“Everyone feels good about the fact that there is just some tendinitis and some swelling in his triceps that we used some medications to get out. Clearly, he’ll need a little bit of downtime, but really confident from the doctors and the medical team that it’s not anything structural.”
Obviously, that wasn’t the case. Yesterday, the team announced that Hicks had a torn UCL, which is typically a precursor to Tommy John surgery. That’s not something that 10 days on the injured list is going to fix.
The Cardinal medical staff is, of course, coming in for some heat given the initial public response and the final result. I don’t know if all of that is fair, of course. Sometimes you find one problem when you are looking for another. Also, remember Adam Wainwright pitched for a long time with a partially torn UCL. Just because Hicks has one doesn’t mean that it was the source of his discomfort on Saturday. While I assume that it would have been found on a regular physical, meaning that unlike Wainwright he’s not had it for a long time, it could have happened at any point this year, not just Saturday.
It’s probably a little more problematic that he passed all the elbow tests on Saturday but, again, if he’s been dealing with the UCL issue for any length of time, that might not be a surprise either. In his six outings before Saturday he had thrown seven scoreless innings. If it didn’t happen during the game against the Angels, he’d probably be able to pass any tests because it wasn’t really bothering him.
Taking the most charitable view of the situation (which, granted, is not one that fans tend toward often), Hicks really did feel something in the triceps area and while they were checking it out they came across the UCL injury. You can say in hindsight that Shildt should have been a little more circumspect in his comments, but it feels like he really thought that there wasn’t going to be anything huge to come out of this. If they thought it was a possibility, it’s likely the manager would have chosen his words differently.
With Hicks seemingly out of the picture for a significant time (well into next season if Tommy John is needed), things get a little more dicey. Now, as I saw pointed out on Twitter, it’s not that Hicks has been automatic. Three of his 29 appearances have seen him give up multiple runs. His command has been iffy at times and he’s walked a bit of a tightrope. That said, the only save that he has actually blown was the game in Milwaukee his second appearance of the year, where Christian Yelich finished off a string of hits that brought the Brewers back from the grave. Since then, the only loss he took was against Texas. He may not have been automatic, but he’s been pretty darn successful. Losing him at the end of the bullpen hurts.
It hurts more because of the ramifications and because the bullpen has been one of the few consistently bright spots in this season. Now, without Hicks at the back of it, things get a little more murky out there. Will Shildt continue to reserve a closer, like he did with Hicks, or will this free him up to play a bit more of a matchup game with the last couple of innings? We thought that Shildt was going to have this flexible bullpen and this seems like a really good chance to do it.
Because otherwise that likely means Carlos Martinez gets set in reserve and taken out of that valuable multi-inning role that he had going on. It’s possible we’d see more saves of four outs or more if Martinez is back there, but it’s still going to be a change in how often he’ll be seen. That will also keep his innings down, which will make a transition back to the rotation next year perhaps even more daunting. (It probably goes without saying–but I’ll say it anyway–that Martinez isn’t going to make it back to the rotation this year now, if he ever was, and the hunt for a starter just got more intense.)
If they take that Martinez-shaped piece out of its slot, everything else starts to shift and tumble. Does that mean John Gant takes on that role? That’s not a huge thing because it feels like Gant and Martinez have been used similarly this year. But maybe that means more reliance on John Brebbia, who has been scored upon in his last three outings and sports a 10.00 ERA in the month of June. More Brebbia right now would not seem to be a good thing. We’ve seen an increase in how Giovanny Gallegos is used but I don’t think we want to see him reserved for a certain spot. He seems more valuable as the fireman that can come in and get strikeouts when they are needed and that need isn’t always in the sixth or seventh.
It’s just another hit to a team that is still searching for ways to put it all together. Thankfully, the Central is helping them out by staying bunched together. In most other divisions, this record would have St. Louis 8-10 games behind the leader but right now they are just 2.5 back of the Cubs. (And they are only 1/2 game out of the wild card, so I guess they’d have a path to the playoffs no matter where they played.) The bullpen has been the one thing that people could rely on this year, though. It remains to be seen if that is the same without Hicks.
Hicks will be placed on the IL today and we’ll see what the corresponding move will be. Honestly, looking at the 40-man I’m not sure how it can’t be Dominic Leone because most of the other pitchers on there are either already up or hurt themselves. I guess Daniel Ponce de Leon could return and change roles. We’ll find out.