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St. Louis Cardinals spring training, Alex Reyes

Alex Reyes throws at the Cardinals' spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

When John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, reached out to prospect Alex Reyes to explain the reason and repercussions of moving him to the 60-day disabled list, it wasn’t difficult to see the righthander’s disappointment.

A long rehab had just gotten longer.

“I believe he’s definitely getting itchy to get going,” Mozeliak said this past weekend in Pittsburgh. “I wanted to let him know why. I could tell there was — there was this sense of frustration. ‘I’ve been working really hard and I want to go.’ Which, really, you have to admire.”

Sidelined since spring training 2017 by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, Reyes became eligible to start his rehab assignment Saturday. He did not, by design. Because the Cardinals placed him on the 60-day DL, the earliest Reyes can return to the active roster is May 28, and rather than exhaust his entire 30-day rehab assignment by starting it Saturday, the Cardinals wanted to build in some flexibility.

He will instead start his rehab assignment around mid-May with one or a few starts at Class A Palm Beach. At that point, he’ll climb the ladder toward the majors with starts at Class AA or Class AAA, all with the plan of being ready the first day he’s eligible.

“That doesn’t mean he’s going to be on (rehab) for all 30,” Mozeliak said.

The Cardinals recently had Reyes take a break from his Groundhog Day-like appearances with extended spring training. He will “kick it back up,” in the coming days, and then start stretching out his pitch count. Since the end of the Cardinals’ major-league spring training, Reyes has been throwing simulated games and during extended spring training games. He’s not been pushed to the 90-pitch effort that will be expected of him. Rather, he’s been throwing three or four innings and pushing the effort and power behind his throws.

When they departed Jupiter, Fla., the Cardinals’ intent was to avoid putting Reyes on the 60-day DL so that he could be ready to join them as May started. He may not have been ready to be in the majors for this homestand, but if not he would arrived soon after.

Reyes, 23, last pitched in the majors in 2016, when he went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 46 innings. He was every bit the celebrated, power-arm prospect that Jordan Hicks has been this season.

The Cardinals will have Reyes going through his rehab assignment as a starter, building up his arm strength to handle the workload needed from a member of the rotation. The role he’ll have in the majors is less prescribed. The team’s need will dictate whether he’s used initially as a starter or as a reliever, and the front office has described how a hybrid role may be most desirable. The team does not want to short-change Reyes’ innings this season. The target will be around 100 innings or so — and the goal will be for him to be available in September and October, if the Cardinals are still playing.

That kind of work will also set him up to be a starter in 2019 without being asked to double his innings from one year to the next.

“I think, in the end,” Mozeliak said, “this was the safest way to protect him.”

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