MILWAUKEE — The pain started around midnight and Kwang Hyun Kim’s first call was to his interpreter, Craig Choi, as a warning that if the discomfort persisted for another hour or two another call would be coming. Kim’s next move was to search the Internet for what could be causing the fierce abdominal pain that woke him in his Chicago hotel room less than two weeks ago.
“I was not in a good mood,” Kim said of what he found before being taken, with Choi, to the emergency room shortly before dawn. “After what the doctor said, that really turned my mood back. I was kind of relieved.”
Ten days later, he was able to start.
Kim returned to the Cardinals’ rotation Monday and pitched as exceptional as when he left it, holding Milwaukee scoreless for a career-high seven innings in the first game of a doubleheader. The Cardinals cracked in the eighth and lost 2-1.
His 0.33 ERA through his first five major-league starts is the second-lowest for a rookie in at least 100 years. He’s the first Cardinal to have four consecutive starts of five innings and zero earned runs allowed since Bob Gibson did it in the seminal pitching year of 1968.
Given the team’s threadbare bullpen, manager Mike Shildt said of Kim’s return that “the timing was not great when it happened; his timing for return is definitely appreciated.”
It was not, however, without risk.
Hospitalized for more than a day, Kim did not have the appendicitis that he was concerned about, but was diagnosed with a renal infarction, limiting blood flow to his kidney. The medication he was prescribed was described as a “very strong blood thinner,” and for the lefty to return to the field meant some adjustments. With doctor approval, Kim altered his regimen so that he would not take the medication leading into his start, but would immediately after. Still, he and the team was accepting a risk of any contact leading to issues.
“Obviously any time you take the field, you put yourself at risk,” said John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations. “More to the point, he needs to avoid taking a ball (off of him). Just has to be something that our medical staff is well aware of. We certainly believe he understands the risk. He really wants to be out there, and in the end we respect that everybody also has to understand there is risk here.
“We’re trying to avoid any type of hard contact.”
Kim said he didn’t think of it as a risk.
He pointed to how he pitched as proof.
The lefty struck out six, held Milwaukee to three hits in seven innings, and extended his scoreless inning streak to 24 innings. He had 11 outs on his first 50 pitches, and he retired the side in order on eight pitches in the fifth to speed toward handling all seven innings of regulation in Game 1. Kim exploited his fastball and that allowed him to downshift, sometimes dramatically. He flipped one curve that caused shortstop Paul DeJong to steal a peek at the radar gun. Kim threw another at 67.4, and he dropped a changeup at 78 mph. His slider veered from 87.6 mph to 75.3 mph. Three of his strikeouts came on called third strikes.
The ailment that sent him to a hospital was not new for Kim, as he had a similar reduction of blood flow to a calf muscle, he said. He said he will have to continue to take medication, but it won’t limit his ability to pitch. When asked if the issue was at all related to a stroke he had almost a decade ago, and has returned from without limitations, Kim shook his head and it was the only answer he gave Monday in English.
“Don’t worry,” Kim said.
Reliever John Gant (sore groin) was not available Monday as he received treatment for his injury. The Cardinals, who gave Gant several days off earlier this season because of a similar ailment, believe he can avoid the injured list and be available by Thursday, at the latest.
• Rookie Johan Oviedo’s test for COVID-19 from Sunday returned negative, and if he has a repeat negative from a test taken Monday the righthander will be set to start one of Wednesday’s doubleheader games. He was removed from the team and put through individual, highly controlled workouts after he had exposure last week to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
• Austin Dean (flexor strain) will remain in St. Louis for rehab and might have avoided the IL if the Cardinals weren’t already playing shorthanded with position players to supplement a thinned bullpen.
Camp to close
The Cardinals’ alternate site camp in Springfield, Mo., will cease operation this weekend, and the team is not sure when or where it will next hold workouts for its youngest, leading minor-league talents. The Springfield site, run by coach Jose Oquendo, has housed the organization’s mix of prospects, recent draft picks, and depth players — all gathered to work out there without a minor-league season. Leading prospects Nolan Gorman and lefties Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore have spent the past eight weeks there, as have the team’s most recently draft picks Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn.
The Cardinals will bring a selection of players — many of whom are already on the 40-man roster — to St. Louis for workouts next week at Busch Stadium. Teams are permitted to expand their taxi squads for the postseason, and the Cardinals will use staggered workouts at St. Louis to keep their extra players working out and doing baseball activities.
The Cardinals do not have a fall or winter instructional camp scheduled because of shifting pandemic policies, and do not expect to organize one until after Halloween.
The great calling for Charles Peterson, his boss said Monday, was to seek out and sign players whose life he could change, as his in 1993 as the 22nd overall pick in the draft. After spending six seasons in the Pirates’ organization and a long career in independent ball, Peterson moved into coaching and scouting, and in 2012 Dan Kantrovitz hired him as an amateur scout to oversee a southern region for the Cardinals.
Peterson’s death Sunday, at 46, after several weeks of battling of COVID-19 shook an organization that has spent its season confronting the tireless virus. Mozeliak said the illness was “a difficult struggle” for Peterson.
The South Carolina native was the scout that signed Cardinals’ first-round pick Jordan Walker, and Mozeliak described Monday how he had memorable talks with Peterson about balancing “ambition with what you’re good at.”
“Being able to have a first-rounder meant a lot to him, almost a crowning achievement,” Mozeliak said. “He took a lot of pride in the players he recommended. Not all players you draft become big-leaguers, but maybe all players you draft become great citizens and do good things. That was something that Charles really wanted his fingerprints on.”
Outfielder Justin Williams is part of the taxi squad the Cardinals have brought to Milwaukee, and he’s the only member who has yet to appear in the majors this season. The other insurance players traveling with the team are infielder Max Schrock, catcher Andrew Knizner, and reliever Junior Fernandez.
• Tommy Edman entered Monday’s play without a strikeout in his previous 22 plate appearances. He struck out in his first two at-bats of Game 1.
CARDINALS QUICK HITS
THE CASE FOR BRINGING BACK CARLSON — NOW
QUESTION: What is best at this point purely for the long-range development of Dylan Carlson: to pull him back out of the frying pan into the fire this month, or to call it a season for him to digest and build from?
COMMISH: If nothing else, Carlson can help defensively or as a pinch runner. He is better than some of the players who are here and he might help the club win a big game, either in the regular season or the playoffs. He doesn't have to win it by himself.
I bring him back. Development can come next spring.
TOO SOON TO FIND FAULT WITH FRONT OFFICE?
QUESTION: 'Mo' has said he hasn't been looking much at analysis of the roster and is instead focused on surviving the day-to-day games. Do you think there has been enough sample size for the front office to make that analysis in the offseason and make the necessary changes to get this team above the .500 level?
COMMISH: Not to ignore the question, but virtually no one's thoughts in the front office are on next season yet. First goal: Finish the season. Second goal: Make the playoffs. Third goal: Get as far as you can with what you have -- or what you have left.
Then comes the gnashing of teeth as to whether this season has been a legitimate sample size or not. In some cases, whatever sample size there was is going to have to be enough to make a decision.
I don't think the front office views this team as a .500 team, but others would say you are what your record says you are. There will be changes.
Follow-up: The offense wasn’t good last year and isn’t in most cases this year, so when is DeWitt going to start holding Mo, Girsch, Shildt and (hitting coach Jeff) Albert accountable?
COMMISH: There will be time for all this in October, either early in the month or later, depending on how things shake out in the next couple of weeks.
Little has been normal about this season and the analysis part of it will have to factor that in. But everyone is accountable if the Cardinals don't make an eight-team playoff field.
HISTORICALLY BAD OUTFIELD?
QUESTION: Some arguments online are focused on whether this is the worst Cardinals outfield ever, or just in the last 30 years. With Fowler out, how does the Cards outfield rank?
COMMISH: Other than yesterday's ball lost in the sun, this actually is a good Cardinals outfield defensively.
Offensively, it is one of the worst I've seen in my nearly 50 years here.
But, remember, there have been only 40 games played by mid-September, rather than the 150 that would have been played.
DROP CARLOS FROM THE ROTATION?
QUESTION: Roughed up in his first two starts. Given an early lead Sunday, he coughs it up. Given a 3-1 lead, he coughs that up. 90 pitches net the team four innings. ERA still over 10.00. How long will the Cardinals continue to prop up Carlos Martinez as a worthy starter?
COMMISH: If Dean catches that fly ball, it's still 3-1, but 90 pitches nonetheless are too many for four innings for Martinez.
He's got two certain starts left — at Pittsburgh and Kansas City —and then he might find himself back in the bullpen again for potential postseason play, because Flaherty, Waino, Hudson and Kim all would start ahead of him.
Follow-up: Carlos was successful as a closer last year, and he's bombing now as a starter. And the team doesn't have a closer. DUH. How about they make Carlos the closer?
COMMISH: I wouldn't rule out Martinez being a late-inning man in the playoffs, perhaps even the closer, but he would have to be convinced that is the best thing for him and the team.
CARDINALS' HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?
QUESTION: How do you assess the Cardinals’ pitching for the next few years? Seems there's is a never-ending flow of decent prospects. Should we be optimistic?
COMMISH: We're seeing enough of Reyes that we can imagine him in the rotation next year with Flaherty, Hudson, Kim, Waino, Mikolas and maybe even Martinez.
Hicks should be back in the bullpen with Cabrera, Gallegos, Gomber and Helsley. And Liberatore and Thompson are not far off as young lefties who could help.
But none of these guys can hit, with the exception of Waino. You can be bullish on the pitching, but some of it likely will be sacrificed to get more offense.
PLAYING .500 GOOD ENOUGH?
QUESTION: All the Cardinals need to do is continue to play .500 ball the rest of the way to claim second in the division. What odds do you give that of happening?
COMMISH: Very good actually, as long as that .500 includes winning five out of 10 from Milwaukee, which is two games behind the Cardinals, but four losses behind. The Cardinals also have eight games left against last-place clubs Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
CARDS-CUBS MATCHUP IN OCTOBER?
QUESTION: On the chance that the Cards face the Cubs in a 3-game series in the first round of the playoffs, what would you see as the pitching matchups? Who do you think would be favored in such a series?
COMMISH: Flaherty-Darvish; Waino-Lester; Hudson-Hendricks, if the schedule works out that all would be on proper rest. That leaves the Cubs with a no-hit pitcher, Mills, in the bullpen.
Cubs would have to be favored because they've played better, and their bullpen may not exposed as much in a very short series as it would be in a longer one.
COMMISH'S BOTTOM LINE ON THE 2020 CARDINALS
COMMENT: Much of the Cardinals' current situation is really just a collection of self-inflicted wounds. They were a bit lax on protocols at first and that led to their jammed schedule. They have a number of players who have simply under-performed this season. This team put itself into a bad place and appears to have hitched its proverbial wagon to the wrong horses.
COMMISH: I refuse to spend too much time analyzing this season when it is not over.
Has it been a good one? No, not by anyone's standards other than that the Cardinals are going to reach the finish line, it seems, when there had been some serious doubt. They could be hitting their stride now. Or they could have no stride.
This is not a great team. I think we all can see that. But could they win a playoff round or two? Of course they could, because they can pitch.
CARPENTER COMING AROUND?
QUESTION: How much should we read into Carp's good homestand? A blip or a lasting improvement?
COMMISH: I would choose to look at it as water seeking its level. Carpenter is not a .170 hitter. How much higher than that is debatable, but the ball looks better and sounds better coming off his bat.
He has only to be good for a few more weeks, not a few more months. You worry about next year's contract whenever the offseason comes.
Follow-up: Good news: Carp's bat has come to life. Bad news: Carp's bat has come to life ... so now we'll have to suffer through 4-5 months of sub-.200 hitting during the 2021 season while we wait for the one hot stretch.
COMMISH: If you are a fan, perhaps it is better not to fret yet whether this is another tease. A productive Carpenter gives the Cardinals a lot better chance to contend this season. Their offense needs all the help it can get.
WHAT'S BEHIND ALL THE BULLPEN BREAKDOWNS?
QUESTION: Have the breakdowns in the bullpen lately been due to overuse because of the number of games?
COMMISH: The Cardinals have been very careful, to the extent of giving up on a couple of games, not to work relievers two days in succession.
I suspect that it's just that the Cardinals have been playing catch-up all season, both in the games played and the games behind, and pitchers are stretching the limits of their bodies, which probably aren't as in good a shape as they would be in a normal season.
PLAYOFFS IN A BUBBLE?
QUESTION: Are you anticipating that the postseason is headed into a “bubble”? If so, is that good for baseball? Would you worry about future postseasons, or perhaps just the World Series, slipping to neutral sites?
COMMISH: I would be OK with just the World Series in a neutral site in future years, but there will be "bubble" ball for the final three rounds this season and I'm not exactly sure why. Teams have been traveling all season, so why stop now? The weather won't be that bad anywhere in mid-October.
ADD EDMONDS TO THE COACHING STAFF?
QUESTION: Jim Edmonds really amazes me with all his baseball knowledge. Would love to have him as our hitting coach, even part-time. Do you think there's a remote chance of that happening?
COMMISH: I don't think Jim wants to be on the road all season long or put in all the extra hours a coach has to on a full-time basis. I believe he prefers the part-time aspect of any coaching he would do. He has a high Baseball IQ, yes.
MOLINA AND THE MONEY
QUESTION: This year’s salaries are prorated. Does that apply to offering a free agent like Yadi a reduced contract, or is a reduction offer still based on his full-year salary?
COMMISH: Since Molina made $20 million this season -- if there had been a full season --the Cardinals couldn't cut him any more than 20 percent, or down to $16 million. So the contract offer would not be pro-rated.
The play will be for Molina to file for free agency and then see if the two sides can agree on something mutually beneficial.
NO CHANCE FOR JUSTIN WILLIAMS?
QUESTION: 'Mo' hinted about Justin Williams being added to the taxi squad. Any chance that we see him play in the next week or so?
COMMISH: For whatever reason(s), Justin Williams is not high on the Cardinals' radar and he did not do particularly well in either training camp this year.
Anyone on the taxi squad is only an injury away from being activated. And there have been plenty of injuries. But would Williams play much? No.
ALBERT THE GREAT
QUESTION: El Hombre is back in the news with another milestone homer. What's your favorite Albert Pujols memory? What are the qualities that made him extraordinary for 11 seasons here?
COMMISH: It would have to be the game-winning home run off Brad Lidge in Houston, keeping the Cardinals alive for another game in the National League Championship Series in 2005.
Pujols' work ethic, equal to his talent if not surpassing it, was his best quality. And his knowledge of the game and its history was extraordinary for someone who was not born in the U.S.
Follow-up: Do you think Pujols will ever catch A-Rod in home runs (696)?
COMMISH: It will be hard to do unless Albert becomes a regular player again, which doesn't seem likely. I don't see Albert hitting 36 home runs the rest of this year and then next year. Once he lost the chance to play a full season this year, he also lost his best shot at 700 homers.
LINDOR ON THE RADAR?
COMMENT: The Cards should take a run at shortstop Francisco Lindor in the offseason. Even if it costs a Hudson or a Liberatore or a Thompson. Lindor is something they don't have, anywhere on the field!
COMMISH: I would take a run at a Lindor every year. But what does it cost? In both players and money? A lot.
But you're right. They don't have a Lindor-type talent. Not many clubs do.
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