JUPITER, Fla. – Less than three weeks away from Opening Day, the St. Louis Cardinals are trying to find the perfect fit in a bit of an unfamiliar spot. For better or for worse, when it comes to the pitching staff, there might be too many cooks in the kitchen.
Around 20 pitchers battling this spring for the Cardinals pitched with the team last year. The team will likely open the 2023 season with no more than 13 hurlers. Unlike recent years, very few candidates seem to have lingering injury concerns that might open up a spot.
When it comes to roster construction, an abundance of arms might be better than not enough, even if it comes with some guys missing out on the big-league roster.
“Depth is a really good thing,” said St. Louis Cardinals manager Oli Marmol. “We always want it, but we have some hard decisions to make as the week continues.”
The Cardinals will trim down their spring camp roster from 58 players by this weekend. With mainstays like Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and others away for the World Baseball Classic, Marmol is plugging young pitchers into many situations for a better idea of what the Cardinals pitching staff might look like in weeks to come and by Opening Day.
“Performance matters, but also when performance isn’t there, how it’s handled and their ability to respond to a bad outing is going to be important,” said Marmol on his process for evaluating pitchers. “It’s going to be some really, really tough decisions. How they show up every day matters.”
Though the Cardinals won’t need to finalize their Opening Day roster until late-March, here is a look at how the pitching staff might shape up at full strength.
LIKELY LOCKS: Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery
CONTENDERS: Steven Matz, Dakota Hudson, Matthew Liberatore
Wainwright and Mikolas are getting their preseason work in at the World Baseball Classic. Flaherty, Hudson, Liberatore and Matz allowed only one run combined over 13 innings in their latest spring games. Montgomery looks for a rebound Friday against a tough New York Mets lineup after allowing four runs iver three innings in his spring debut.
Marmol previously mentioned that for Hudson, avoiding quick three-ball counts and walks were keys to success, though perhaps that translates to some extent for every rotation figure.
As for the competition to win a starting role, Hudson says “I feel like I’m just trying to make pitches, find the best way to be consistent myself, and wherever I can help the team is what I’ll do.”
LIKELY LOCKS: Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Jordan Hicks, Andre Pallante, Chris Stratton, Jake Woodford
CONTENDERS: Dakota Hudson, Anthony Misiewicz, Packy Naughton, Wilking Rodriguez, JoJo Romero, Andrew Suarez, Zack Thompson, Drew VerHagen
Bullpen decisions will likely prove trickier than starters. It tracks to be a mix of young arms and veterans, plus a few breaking-pitch southpaws mixed with right-handed flamethrowers.
The Cardinals finished with the 11th best bullpen ERA in baseball last year (3.85), and also within the bottom half of teams in bullpen walks and home runs allowed. Pitcher splits among those three stats will likely play a role into the Opening Day roster pitching staff.
“When you start to look at the bullpen spots, it fills up very quickly,” said Marmol.
This spring, Jake Woodford leads in innings pitched (9) and stirkeouts (7) this spring and has only allowed one run. Drew VerHagen, switching from part-time rotation hopes last year after injury, has brought some heat to his pitches and picked up a save in Thursday’s WBC exhibition game against Nicaragua.
Also of note, St. Louis is testing out some of its more estabilished relief pitchers early in games, like Ryan Helsley, to handle more high-intensity situations that may not present themselves later when starters are replaced in games.