ARLINGTON, TEXAS — While giving regular updates on Carlos Martinez’s minor-league appearances as the righthander made his way back to the major-league bullpen, manager Mike Shildt would offer radar readings on Martinez’s fastball for the “velocity fiends.”
His wry comment could become an apt nickname.
It has certainly become a strategy.
With a series of moves Friday, the Cardinals reset their relievers by adding velocity and versatility to the bullpen. The Cardinals recalled All-Star Martinez from a rehab assignment and promoted rookie righthander Ryan Helsley from Class AAA Memphis. To make room on the roster, the Cardinals demoted reliever Dominic Leone and designated veteran Luke Gregerson for assignment. The uptick in power is palpable – and, fiendishly, by design.
“At the end of the day, it’s about getting outs, however we get outs,” Shildt said. “Helsley did a nice job and he’s got firepower, clearly. He’s got ability to get righties (and) lefties). Carlos has the pitchability and the firepower. Today’s game – doesn’t say it’s exclusively about firepower. But you know it’s nice to have.”
The Cardinals opted to promote Martinez a day earlier than planned when he recovered well from his outing Wednesday for Class AA Springfield and could be available for a shorter outing, if needed, Friday. The Cardinals removed Helsley abruptly after 23 pitches from his relief appearance Thursday for Memphis so that he too could be available Friday. Both relievers will serve as multi-inning options for Shildt, and he outlined usages for Martinez and Helsley that would fit into late-game assignments.
“I’m ready to go,” Martinez said.
Martinez, who finished last season as the Cardinals’ closer, will be part of the team’s setup options, joining lefty Andrew Miller and righthander John Gant.
“It’s a combination of multiple innings,” Shildt said, “and not being overly splitty.”
While Leone heads to Memphis’ bullpen to regain his grip on a role, the Cardinals intend to take until Monday to determine what move to make with Gregerson. It’s likely they will release the 35-year-old reliever. In his second tour with the Cardinals, Gregerson struggled to stay on the field due to injury and find success due to stuff. The righthander worked his way back from shoulder and knee ailments to pitch 5 2/3 innings in the majors this season, and he allowed 11 hits and struck out two. On Thursday night in Atlanta, he allowed two earned runs on four hits. Gregerson pitched a total of 18 1/3 innings for the Cardinals over the past 14 months, and he joins a list of high-cost relievers that have been ineffective for the team.
It was quite an ending for a veteran who signed for a two-year, $11-million contract and was advertised entering spring training 2018 as the team’s likely closer.
“So, when we look at relievers there are guys who stay healthy and make 60 appearances and throw 70 innings for a decade straight and you can rationalize that they’re healthy bulldogs who are going to be healthy going forward,” said general manager Michael Girsch. “Or you can say they’ve used up a lot of bullets, and it might not go so well. … One of the appeals of Luke was that he had been healthy and productive for a long time. Just didn’t work out.
“If we had the Luke Gregerson that we thought we signed, throwing 90 mph but dropping sliders on the outside corner every time, we’d be totally fine with that,” Girsch said. “Velocity is not the be-all, end-all.”
But it is the rage, and the Cardinals hope it’s a relief.
“Hopefully, we added two big, power arms that can stretch out the bullpen,” Girsch said, “and put us in good spots.”
Alex Reyes, the Cardinals’ leading pitching prospect entering the season, has been cleared to return to game action and is scheduled to join High-A Palm Beach’s rotation next week. Reyes, who fractured a finger on his left hand following an appearance for Memphis, has been throwing on the backfields of Jupiter, Fla., without a glove and behind a protective L-screen. He’ll make his last controlled appearance like that Saturday and could pitch between 70 and 80 pitches.
He’s replicating four or five innings an outing.
Reyes, 24, had an X-ray taken of his left hand Friday to determine whether the healing had progressed enough for him to begin fielding in game action. The Cardinals will have him first pitch in games for the PB-Cards because the Florida State League has a designated hitter and Reyes won’t have to take at-bats. After two or three starts there – and with increased pitch count – Reyes will be measured for a promotion and possibly a role in the majors. He is being prepped as a starter should give the rotation need a refresh.
On their way home from spring training next year, the Cardinals will swing through Texas to help the Rangers give their new ballpark a dress rehearsal. The Cardinals and Rangers will play an exhibition game on March 23 at Globe Life Field, the new ballpark being built adjacent to the current ballpark, Globe Life Park. The exhibition sets the Cardinals up to open the regular season March 26 or 27, the Thursday or Friday following the exhibition.
The soft opening of a new ballpark starts what will be an eventful 2020 schedule for the Cardinals, one that already includes a trip to London to face the Cubs and will include series against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. As The Post-Dispatch had previously reported in April, the Cardinals volunteered at least one game to be selected to face the rival Cubs for the London Series in 2020. Their selection will be announced officially in June.
Between starts for Class AAA Memphis, lefty Austin Gomber felt some soreness in his left biceps that could cost him as many as two starts. Gomber was placed on the minor-league IL. In eight starts for the Redbirds, Gomber is 4-0 with a 2.98 ERA and he has 52 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings pitched. … Brett Cecil (carpal tunnel surgery) has been cleared by a surgeon to begin throwing early next week. He and Mike Mayers (lat strain) are on similar throwing programs, and each could take a month to complete. Cecil expected to be available for the Cardinals around the All-Star break, at the latest. … Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Her son, Kramer Robertson, is an infielder in the Cardinals’ organization and has hit six homers with 17 RBIs for Class AA Springfield.