Cardinals invest a healthy amount of planning, patience to explore Hicks’ ‘serious upside’ as starter | St. Louis Cardinals

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MIAMI — The plan to get Jordan Hicks on a set schedule and see if that keeps his prized arm durable regardless of role reaches its long-advertised starting point Thursday, and the Cardinals believe they might get more than health from their former closer.

With time, they think they can unveil a regular in the rotation.

“He’s going to let us know,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said.

“When (manager Oliver Marmol) told me I was getting that starting role, he told me, ‘I’m excited to see what you’re going to do these next couple of years in this role,’” Hicks said. “That’s where my mindset is.”

After 114 appearances, 20 saves in the majors, and three seasons intruded upon by elbow injuries, Hicks will make his first major-league start on Thursday, facing the Marlins at loanDepot Park. The right-hander will have a hard pitch limit and depending on his efficiency he isn’t expected to pitch more than two or three innings. The Cardinals have twice rescheduled Hicks’ debut as the fifth starter, and that’s only the beginning of the commitment necessary to making it possible for him to build stamina for a new role while being in that new role.

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The Cardinals have committed three rosters spots to long relievers to prepare for leftover innings, and they’ve managed games to keep Hicks on schedule with two previous appearances, both in relief. These scripted short starts are new for the Cardinals, a challenge when balancing the bullpen, and made possible in part by the NL having the designated hitter. All the investment and complexity of what they’re trying to pull off reveals how they think it will pay off.

“There is serious upside to him being able to be a legit starter,” Marmol said Wednesday. “And it’s a matter of gaining length out of him. If we’re just thinking about starting the season and keeping him healthy for 162. Having him scheduled throughout that entire season is going to be the best thing health-wise for him.”

Marmol was asked if he felt Hicks will at any point be a six-, seven-inning starter.

“I do,” the manager said. “It’s one thing to define that today. I think he’s going to let us know. We’ll continue to throw him out there and it’s on him to show what he’s capable of doing and where he fits over time.”

Time is running out on the expanded roster, and that becomes a factor for the Cardinals when covering the middle innings of Hicks’ starts. All teams started the season with a 28-man roster due to the lockout-shortened spring training. On May 1, all rosters downsize to 26, and per a new rule in place the maximum number of pitchers permitted is 13. The Cardinals will have to trim two pitchers from their staff — and innings will go with them. The Cardinals’ three current long relievers Jake Woodford, Drew VerHagen, and Aaron Brooks have all appeared in shorter outings, too, and their ability to shrink or stretch to fit will help with a reduced roster.

Hicks will have one more start between Thursday and the roster trims, and he’s set to start that day, May 1. If the right-hander is able to add 15 to 20 pitches per appearance he could be set to cover at least five innings by that May 1 start, and that the Cardinals feel is enough — and Hicks could grow into more.

The schedule is the goal.

The role could be a huge perk.

“As he understands what this schedule does for me, you see the big smile and confidence that comes with health and it really shows in his body language,” Maddux said. “We all know a healthy Jordan Hicks is pretty darn good. We’re still shortening the game. We might be shortening it up front.”

Said Hicks: “I know this is where I want to be. I know my stuff plays.”

Carlson gets ‘work’ break

After a second consecutive zero-for-five game, outfielder Dylan Carlson got a break Wednesday from the leadoff duties and requested early work that afternoon on the field. The switch-hitter started the season strong atop the order with leadoff base hits in three consecutive games, but starting in Milwaukee he tumbled into a 14-at-bat hitless streak.

For the first time this season he has more strikeouts (seven) than hits (six) after bookending his game Tuesday with strikeouts. Carlson hit on the field hours before the game and during the Cardinals’ batting practice to work on the timing of his stride.

“A little mental blow,” Marmol said. “It becomes frustrating when you’re not getting the results you want at times. There is a difference between an off day when there’s no baseball and a day when you can come in and still get some work in and not worry about getting the results that night. Mentally that’s different.”

Tommy Edman, the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter the majority of 2021, moved up to the spot after his two-hit, two-RBI Tuesday. He singled in his first two at-bats to run his hit streak to all 10 games this season. The switch-hitter brought a .355 average into the game and could vault back to the leadoff spot this season. Marmol said Carlson will be there Thursday.

With Tuesday’s victory, Yadier Molina moved ahead of Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk for second all-time in wins caught with 1,192. The leader is Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez who has 1,254 wins in games caught. Molina would need 63 more wins this season to own the record. … Albert Pujols is five hits shy of tying Eddie Collins’ 3,313 for the 10th most in MLB history. … Adam Wainwright’s 63.7-mph curveball Tuesday night to Jesus Sanchez is the slowest pitch thrown this season except for some tossed by position players.


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