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Cardinals spring training

Dakota Hudson, drafted by the Cardinals in 2016, throws a bullpen session during spring training this past February. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

MILWAUKEE • On the periphery, for now, of the Cardinals’ discussion about what to do with Michael Wacha’s spot in the rotation, Dakota Hudson sent word from Class AAA Memphis that he may be closer to helping than the roster would allow.

Hudson struck out seven and allowed one run in eight sterling innings Saturday night for Triple-A Memphis, and the 23-year-old righthander lowered his ERA to 2.04.

The win, his 10th, was his ninth quality start in 10 games.

“I think he’s just pitching. I think he’s just competing,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said when asked if perhaps Hudson was auditioning. “He’s still young. Hasn’t been doing it all that long. But he sees a lot of guys going up and down. He also sees that he’s not a roster player. We’ve had quite a few different guys that we could go to, and a lot of those guys are here. I imagine that’s part of his thought process. More than anything else he’s trying to get better.”

The Cardinals will start John Gant against Cleveland at Busch Stadium on Monday, the first turn in the rotation Wacha will miss. The team also expects to have a clearer sense of the length of Wacha’s absence and severity of the oblique strain that put him on the disabled list. What Gant and Daniel Poncedeleon – two of Memphis’ leading starters – have that Hudson does not is a spot on the 40-man roster.

Hudson does not have to be protected on the 40-man this coming offseason, either. To put him in the majors, the Cardinals would have to use a spot and then keep him in that spot – possibly creating a bind that leads to losing another player. Which has happened.

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What Hudson also has is one of the best pitches in the system.

He is one of the game’s best groundball pitchers. Of his 24 outs on Saturday, 10 came on the ground and five via strikeout. This season he averages nearly two groundouts for every flyout, and lefthanded batters are nearly three times as likely to ground out.

The Cardinals see his sinker and slider as elite pitches, and in the past such pitches have ushered prospects like Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and, most recently, Jordan Hicks to the majors as relievers. Hudson could stick as a starter.

“He had our attention in spring training,” Matheny said. “You hear me talk a lot about what’s a little bit different. What Dakota has is different movement. To where, it’s abnormal sink and abnormal cut. Keeping hitters off balance – that’s the whole trick to pitching. This guy has an abnormal slider that gets swings and misses.”

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Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.