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Cardinals notebook: Hicks his the century mark 13 times in spring debut

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St. Louis Cardinals start day 2 of team workouts in Jupiter

The Cardinals' Jordan Hicks throws his first bullpen session of the spring, on the second day of team workouts on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, at the Cardinals spring training facility in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

JUPITER, Fla. — Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux has programmed reliever Jordan Hicks for three more spring outings after his initial appearance against Houston on Monday. If those generally rival what Maddux and manager Oliver Marmol saw on Monday, Hicks would be a viable candidate to come north with the club a little more than a week from now.

The righthander, who scarcely has pitched since 2019 because of various elbow issues, hit 100 mph on 13 of his 20 pitches and fanned two batters in a scoreless sixth inning. He walked one and induced a weak grounder to third as he also had a good slider.

“It was fun to watch, man,” offered Maddux after the Cardinals’ 2-1 loss. “The guy really hasn’t pitched really for a couple of years. We’ve seen the work he’s put in.”

Maddux was referring to Hicks’ bullpen sessions and his batting practice outings.

“We just want that to translate to the game and it was even better in the game than what we’d seen,” Maddux said.

Hicks isn’t throwing 104 or 105 anymore, not that he couldn’t approach that again if he felt he needed something extra “in hairier situations — if you’ve got men on first and third with one out, no outs,” Hicks said. “They might need to see something they haven’t seen in a while. I think I still have that in me.

“A hundred to 101 (mph) I feel is natural. That’s nice, easy, smooth,” he said.

Hicks threw 14 consecutive fastballs at one point.

“I didn’t tell anybody,” Hicks said. “I wanted to establish my fastball.”

Manager Oliver Marmol said, “His velocity is always there but he was under control. You’d think he’d be a little hyped-up but he wasn’t rushing. It looked really good. We were impressed by it.”

Maddux said he didn’t particularly care about the velocity “as long as his arm is in the right position and he comes down through it and throws strikes, it’s going to be what God gave him — which is pretty special.

“I always think making good pitches is where your livelihood is,” Maddux added. “It doesn’t matter what your ‘velo’ is. He’s got the special arm. He (has) the fastball nobody else throws. Other guys throw hard, generally four-seamers, but to have his two-seam (sinking) action is unique. It’s an outlier.”

With Hicks, Genesis Cabrera, Ryan Helsley and Gioanny Gallegos, the latter two of whom also had scoreless innings Monday, the Cardinals have the makings of a stellar bullpen. Maddux said he wasn’t interested in if it was the best.

“I just want to be the best we can be,” he said. “If we’re the best we can be, we’re going to be really good.”

Marmol hasn’t established bullpen roles yet and the 25-year-old Hicks, who was the closer until he had Tommy John surgery in 2019, said it didn’t matter.

“I just want to be in the innings that win ballgames,” he said. “I’ve got to show what I can do to win any role.”

Marmol said Hicks’ role still was under discussion but that he wasn’t concerned about Hicks’ health anymore.

“Our hope is that he can be more than a one-inning guy,” Marmol said.

The pre-lockout talk was to build up Hicks to be a potential starter, which he always has wanted to do in the majors. There won’t be time for that in the next week.

“I can’t go from not pitching for 2½ years to being a starter,” Hicks said. “That’s a big workload. You’ve got to have that stepping block. I’m going to have this year and see what we end up with. It’s more about me being healthy.”

In theory, Hicks could build up his innings in the minors but he said, “That’s not a thought in my brain. I want to earn a spot here.”

Neither does he think constantly about his health, which has been iffy in the past three seasons — in which he has pitched in just 39 games total.

“You don’t want to have the mindset of worrying about getting hurt,” he said.

Pitching plansRighthander Jack Flaherty, sidelined as he tries to heal shoulder discomfort, hasn’t thrown yet in camp but Maddux said, “He’s about to commence a program. He’ll be back. I just don’t know when.”

Adam Wainwright, who will pitch the Cardinals’ opening game of the season, on April 7, gave up solo homers to lefthanded-hitting Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez on Monday but otherwise was stout, fanning three and walking no one over five innings and 64 pitches.

“Very efficient,” Marmol said. “We had him scheduled for four. He was able to go five.”

Molina starts

Yadier Molina made his spring catching debut, handling Wainwright — his partner of 304 big-league starts.

Molina flied out and grounded out in two at-bats and said he felt fine.

Three pitchers optionedRighthanders Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo and Freddy Pacheco were optioned to Class AAA Memphis after the game. The moves leave 49 players in camp.

The Cardinals rallied to beat Miami 6-5 in a morning “B” game with Lars Nootbaar, Luken Baker, Alec Burleson and Clint Coulter (a three-run shot) hitting home runs. Aaron Brooks allowed three runs in the first but bounced back to strike out four in 2 2/3 innings. Former Cardinal Sandy Alcantara, pitching for the Marlins, blanked the Cardinals for the first five innings.

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