As they have played through and danced around persistently soggy and severe weather throughout this homestand, there is one forecast the Cardinals cannot avoid.
Games postponed now inevitably test pitching later.
For the third time in what was scheduled to be a 10-game homestand, the Cardinals postponed a game, calling off Wednesday night’s early that afternoon. The Cardinals also announced that Thursday’s game against Milwaukee would be delayed from its scheduled 12:45 p.m. start time to 6:15 p.m. Two games rained out this week are likely to be rescheduled for what could become a grueling June. That gives the Cardinals time to build some necessary pitching depth, especially at the Class AAA level.
“The essence of this is that we need these 30 days to know what we’re looking at for the next 30 days,” general manager John Mozeliak said Wednesday. “The next 30 days are critical to get this group back and ready to contribute. By the time June arrives, we need to have figured it out.”
The Cardinals’ planned pitching depth has been eroded by injury, starting with elbow surgery for top prospect Alex Reyes in February and compounded recently by Tyler Lyons’ return to the disabled list. The Cardinals viewed Lyons as their spot starter, the pitcher who would take an open start or spell one of the members of the rotation. Lyons, sidelined by a lower back issue and ribcage strain, is on the 10-day DL, leaving the Cardinals to choose from the Class AAA rotation if they need innings, as they probably will in June.
Luke Weaver returned to Memphis’ rotation with a strong start Tuesday night. The righthander had been on the disabled list with the same lower-back stiffness that slowed his work during spring training. In a win at Omaha, Weaver threw six scoreless innings, struck out five and walked no one.
“My main thing was, if I have time (on rehab), I need to learn something new or I need to get better at something I’m doing,” Weaver said Wednesday, from Omaha. “I felt like (my arm) was dragging a little bit. So I did some extra drills, some work on that, and was ready to go for the start. I felt ready to go.”
Weaver, who had a cameo last season in the majors, can establish his place on the depth chart with continued healthy, consistent starts. Mozeliak referenced Daniel Poncedeleon (2-0, 1.64 ERA) and Mike Mayers (2-3, 6.08 ERA) as starters available if needed. Arturo Reyes (3-0, 1.89 ERA) had an impressive spring training that has spilled over into 16 strikeouts and 21 baserunners in 19 innings for Memphis. Some of the team’s best pitching performances have been at Class AA Springfield — particularly by Jack Flaherty (4-0, 0.56 ERA) — though the team would prefer to avoid promotions from there for short-term needs.
On the horizon are two pitchers who could help, Marco Gonzales (elbow) and John Gant (groin). Gonzales could be starting a game for an affiliate within a week, and by the end of the 30-day stretch Mozeliak mentioned Gant could be ready for long relief or a spot start.
He had positioned himself as the next man up before his injury.
“That is more of what we thought we’d have for depth,” Mozeliak said. He added that the rash of postponements has “really made it harder to get any momentum going. The things (manager Mike Matheny) has talked about wanting to work on, needing to address – it’s been difficult to get into the rhythm and weather has impaired even the opportunities we’ve had to take the field.”
The Cardinals must make up Saturday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds and now Wednesday’s against the Brewers. The Cardinals and Reds have a mutual off day June 26 that could be used for their game. The Brewers return to St. Louis June 13-15, and a mutual off day on June 12 is possible for a makeup game.
If both games are moved to June, the Cardinals would lose two of the month’s three off days. They would be scheduled to play 27 consecutive days — a move that must be approved by the union — and they would play 47 of the 48 days leading into the All-Star break.
That is a stretch to test any team’s pitching, let alone one thinned by injury.
Weaver, 23, was Memphis’ opening day starter, though he had difficulty getting through the first inning. He banged his finger in the dugout and had to stop it from bleeding during the first inning, and then left the game when spasms seized his back after two innings. Weaver came to St. Louis to meet with the team’s lead doctor and have an MRI taken. He said he felt better after receiving treatment and was soon able to resume building up his arm strength down in Jupiter, Fla. He worked throughout spring on a curveball and was able to use it effectively Tuesday in Omaha “to steal a first-pitch strike” and for a chase strikeout.
Asked if last season’s starts in the majors have helped him think about what he has to do to prepare for a promotion, he said “yes and no.”
“Yes, you want to make sure all of your pitches are ready and you want to do what you can to work on them,” Weaver said. “No, you also have to get the results. Basically, you have to be on your game at all times. That call can come at any time.”