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Cardinals notebook: Versatile Gio Gallegos inks extension, could be in bullpen through 2025

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Cardinals clinch wild card with 17th consecutive win

Cardinals reliever celebrates after getting the final out in a 6-2 victory over Milwaukee on Sept. 28, 2021, Busch Stadium. The Cards won their 17th consecutive game and clinched a wild-card playoff slot.

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses Albert Pujols’ 18 homers since the All-Star break (as well as his 46 RBIs, 1.104 OPS and more). Plus, a happy birthday shoutout to Alicia Silverstone! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

PITTSBURGH — His role has changed some since Giovanny Gallegos and the Cardinals initially had momentum for a contract extension, but that only added to the appeal of finalizing one.

Once the closer, now the setup man and always utilized in a variety of high-leverage spots, the versatile right-hander and the club finalized a two-year contract extension Monday afternoon. The deal covers all of Gallegos’ remaining arbitration-eligible seasons and includes a team option for 2025, which would otherwise be the 31-year-old relievers first crack at free agency.

“Right now,” Gallegos said, “with the extension my confidence is 100%, 200%.”

But he had a rough outing Monday night. After coming in and recording the final out of the bottom of the eight inning in a tie game, he walked all three men he faced in the ninth. He was replaced by JoJo Romero, who walked the next batter as Pittsburgh won 3-2.

Gallegos opened the season as the Cardinals’ closer and eventually yielded the ninth to All-Star Ryan Helsley. Still, Gallegos has tied a career high with 14 saves, and in 57 appearances he has a 3.05 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings. He has proved adept at handling assignments in the seventh, eighth, or multiple late innings.

At his best, Gallegos gives the Cardinals a way to shorten games with Helsley by as many as three innings, and that will become apparent with the expected aggressive use of the bullpen in this weekend’s wild-card series.

“He’s been used in multiple roles, (and) he’s excelled at all of them,” said John Mozeliak, team president of baseball operations. “It’s invaluable. As you’re looking to develop a bullpen, obviously creating the most flexibility in it usually allows you to get through that 162. And then when you turn the page and have to play in a short series, having someone who can pitch in the eighth or ninth is very important. He has shown he can handle any of those roles.”

The Cardinals acquired Gallegos from the Yankees at the trade deadline in July 2018. He came with Chasen Shreve in exchange for Luke Voit. The next season, Gallegos began his swift move toward the back end of the bullpen and a prominent late-inning role that peaked with 14 saves as the closer in 2021. Last spring, his agent and the Cardinals made progress on an extension — but ultimately he signed a one-year, $2.41 million deal to avoid arbitration, and extension talks only resumed recently.

Gallegos sought what Mozeliak described as “peace of mind.”

Financial details of the contract were not immediately known. Other relievers with similar service time would suggest a guarantee that could be around $15 million.

Gallegos beamed about finally getting the deal he sought completed.

“Since the day I got here, I wanted to stay here,” Gallegos said. “And my focus has always been to win. Let’s win. Let’s win together.”

Arenado scratch ‘precautionary’

Third baseman Nolan Arenado was scratched from the lineup shortly before the first pitch Monday night because of “precautionary” reasons, Mozeliak said. Arenado had calf soreness and the team did not want him to “push through” on a chilly night in a game that had no impact on its playoff seeding.

Arenado took part in batting practice and the Cardinals’ full complement of infield drills for the first game of a three-game series. He said before the game Monday that he expected to play in each of them but have his time shortened — get a few at-bats and then get out as he prepped for the weekend playoff series.

Hicks: ‘Ready’ for game

Jordan Hicks would like to get into Wednesday’s game, face hitters, and prove his readiness for the playoff bullpen. He feels like his arm is set and would welcome the challenge of competition, not another round of shadowboxing hitters in a bullpen session.

“I’m ready to go,” the right-hander said.

The Cardinals, eager to see Hicks in a game before he appears in a high-leverage playoff spot, must weigh the roster implications.

Adding Hicks to the active roster for Wednesday’s regular-season finale will mean optioning a pitcher and assure that pitcher cannot return to the roster for 15 days, effectively the first two rounds of the playoffs. The only way back sooner for that pitcher would be to replace an injured player, who would not be available for the subsequent playoff round. The Cardinals have to downsize the roster from 28 to 26 before Friday’s playoff opener anyway and committing to Hicks early would be part of that process. But it’s that 15-day minimum that looms over the choice with Hicks.

O’Neill hastens pace

The most significant step Tyler O’Neill has yet to take might also be his quickest.

The Cardinals left fielder, working to return from a hamstring strain, faced game-speed pitching Monday for the first time since his injury more than two weeks ago. He also continued to do sprints, throws to bases, and he added what he called “curvature” running — that is running to simulate the arcs around the bases. O’Neill has yet to break from the batter’s box at full speed or read and react to a fly ball at full, explosive speed.

“Still stuff to get done and another couple of days of live batting practice to do it,” O’Neill said. “Doing everything I can to build up to game speed. Feeling good with the direction that I’m going.”

During early practice at PNC Park, O’Neill and Nolan Gorman took at-bats against lefties Packy Naughton and Genesis Cabrera. All four of the players are traveling with the team but not on the active roster. The pitchers O’Neill faced all recently appeared in games and were ahead of him on their timing.

The decision for the Cardinals comes down to whether they think O’Neill can start as their left fielder, improve the defense and not have the speed part of his game compromised.

“I want a full Tyler O’Neill if he’s going to be on the roster,” Marmol said.

Dakota starts Tuesday, etc.

Dakota Hudson will start Tuesday’s game and won’t have the pitch count limits stuck on other starters this week as they prep for their postseason assignments. The right-hander will pitch as deep into the game as his performance and efficiency earns.

Hudson is competing for a spot in the bullpen for the weekend wild-card series. The hope, Marmol said, also is to get Jack Flaherty an appearance out of the bullpen in Tuesday’s game.

• The Cardinals’ taxi squad for the road series: Hicks, O’Neill, Naughton, Cabrera, Gorman, catcher Ivan Herrera, and lefty starter Matthew Liberatore. The pitching prospect was brought up in case the Cardinals need innings this week. He’s readily available and can be added.

• Upon further review, Paul DeJong was awarded a single for his sixth inning ball in play on Sept. 28 in Milwaukee. Initially ruled an error on the third base, the hit is now DeJong’s 499th of his career

Ratings record set

It has been a season full of milestones for the Cardinals, with Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright heavily involved in the accomplishments. So it is only fitting that ceremonies Sunday featuring that trio led to the highest rating ever for a Cards pregame show on what now is Bally Sports Midwest.

According to Nielsen, which tabulates viewership, 6.6% of homes in the market with a TV (129,000 viewers) tuned it to BSM’s coverage of the festivities at Busch Stadium honoring Pujols and Molina just before they played in their final home regular-season game. Wainwright, the starting pitcher in that contest, was a featured speaker at the event.

The figure is for the entire pregame program, which ran from noon-1:15 p.m. The rating for the portion of coverage when the on-field events took place, 12:30-1:1:15 p.m., was 7.8 (157,000 people).

BSM has drawn bigger audiences for Cards home-opener ceremonies, but it counts those as part of its game telecasts instead of including them in the pregame show numbers.

Dan Caesar of the Post-Dispatch staff contributed to this report.

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