JUPITER, Fla. • As Dakota Hudson jogged out Wednesday to warm up for what could be the start of something new in his career, teammate Austin Gomber, a challenger for the open spot in the Cardinals’ rotation, asked a favor. Gomber, a lefty, wanted to test-drive a slider against lefthanded hitters in the game and needed Hudson to retire the first six batters in Atlanta’s lineup to get that opportunity.
“He put me in that situation,” Hudson said. “Geez. I’ve faced like six batters before today. That’s just him talking.”
“Of course he did it,” Gomber said.
Hudson got six outs from six Braves and, with the help of a double play, finished his first appearance of spring training on 18 pitches. Atlanta hitters made contact on three pitches in his second inning and each of them produced a ground ball – for a single, for a double play, and for an out. It was the kind of effective, efficient and ruthlessly grounded inning that has pitching coach Mike Maddux and the Cardinals intrigued about how one of last year’s bullpen sensations can be this year’s rotation revelation. But he’s not alone.
On Wednesday, the Cardinals had three of the five pitchers auditioning for a starting job pitch in some form of competition. Hudson and Gomber split the first four scoreless innings in the Cardinals’ 4-0 loss to Atlanta at Roger Dean Stadium. Daniel Ponce de Leon threw a live batting practice session so that he could focus specifically on piloting his curveball. John Gant, who is out of minor-league options, and top prospect Alex Reyes are the other candidates, with Reyes revving back from shoulder surgery and set to appear in a Grapefruit League game as soon as next week.
Carlos Martinez, his arm still in a sling Wednesday, is out for another two weeks and not available to start the season in the rotation, so the Cardinals have what they’ve been talking about all offseason – a chance to showcase and test their pitching depth until one pitcher takes the fifth spot.
A classic competition is stirring: He who pitches best, starts.
“I think we’re looking to see are they pitching the best to be able to go compete,” manager Mike Shildt said. “I think there is something to be said for that. Absolutely.”
Hudson, 24, was part of the Cardinals’ reboot in July as he moved to the majors into the bullpen. In 26 appearances, the righthander had a 2.63 ERA and 19 strikeouts to go with 18 walks. He minimized the damage those walks did by getting two groundouts for every fly out. With his turbo-charged sinker, Hudson has been one of the best groundball pitchers in professional baseball. More than three out of every five balls put in play against him last season were on the ground, and in the minors he had a 2.03 groundout-fly out ratio.
His 1.88 ratio at Class AAA this past season would have ranked 13th in all of full-season minor-league baseball.
“The guy gets ground balls like it’s his job, which it is,” starter Jack Flaherty said. “It’s a power sinker, and he throws it and guys just bury it into the ground. Everything plays off of it, too. It’s just heavy.”
Hudson rode that sinker to a 13-3 record with a 2.50 ERA for the Redbirds, and though he left Triple-A for good at the All-Star break he left enough of an impression to win the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year award. He had won the Texas League pitcher of the year the previous season. Each time as a starter.
In December, Maddux called Hudson and told him to stretch out, spend the offseason preparing to be a starter because those innings would await him at spring training.
“As a starter,” Maddux repeated. “We’ve got to see that.”
As if a hybrid between the pitcher Dave Duncan celebrated and the pitcher modern baseball demands, Hudson has a groundball-greedy pitch and throws it at 95 mph or swifter. After beginning his start Wednesday with two balls, Hudson threw six consecutive pitches at least 95 mph and got two outs. National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. popped up. Ozzie Albies struck out on three pitches, and Hudson tested him with a new pitch — an elevated fastball.
From there, Hudson started mixing in a cut fastball that he can dial down into a sharper slider, and a breaking ball that’s closer to a curve. A changeup is in the works.
“My sinker is good, but it’s all about protecting your best pitch,” Hudson said. “How do you pitch to where you can stay effective instead of just utilizing it until everybody is able to see it?”
As requested, Hudson finished his outing in time for Gomber to start the third inning and get the lefthanded hitters he wanted to face.
He estimated he threw 10 sliders, getting at least two swings and misses.
Gomber wasn’t comfortable with his slider this past season and couldn’t find a lefty to mentor him until along came one of the finest sliders in the game, an arm’s length away. On the first day of spring training, Gomber asked newly added veteran Andrew Miller about his slider, and how he manipulates it. Gomber wanted a new look for the lefthanded hitters who vexed him. That instruction turned into experimentation and, on Wednesday, implementation. Gomber struck out two and did not allow a hit in his two scoreless innings. The slider gives him a second breaking ball as a starter — and a neutralizer vs. lefthanded hitters as either a reliever or starter.
“Starter or reliever, you’re going to have to face (Christian) Yelich, (Anthony) Rizzo, (Joey) Votto at some point,” Gomber said. “So I’m gearing what we’re doing this year toward getting those guys out whether it’s three times a game or one time a game.”
The Cardinals have reverse-engineered their rotation from the first week of the regular season so that Miles Mikolas has opening day in Milwaukee and the other starters — Jack Flaherty, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright and TBD — roll out from there. With five games in five days to start the year, the Cardinals will need a fifth starter before they reach an off day. There’s method to the overlap, Shildt said, which has Gomber and Hudson sharing games and Ponce de Leon scoring innings. Gant already opened his spring with two scoreless innings, and Reyes is on deck.
Eventually the spring innings will tighten and a starter emerge.
“It’s also them saying we don’t know what we need but they gave me an opportunity to pitch in every situation, and I have thrown in every situation as a big leaguer besides a start,” Hudson said. “It felt like it was an opportunity. It still is an opportunity. I don’t know if bullpen or starting would be my path. I’m just taking advantage of being able to get out there and say I’m a ballplayer.”
HALL OF FAME BASEBALL WRITER RICK HUMMEL MAKES THE PICKS
Manager Mike Shildt's declaration before the 2019 season that the Cardinals' current roster includes five No. 1-type starting pitchers inspired us to publish Rick Hummel's compilation of the top 25 Cardinals pitchers since the franchise joined the National League in 1892.
This list excluded the legendary likes of 1888 St. Louis Browns sidearm righthander Charles “Silver” King, a native St. Louisan, who won 45 games and completed 64 of 66 starts, pitching 585 2/3 innings for the American Association team. And it also doesn't have righthander Elton “Ice Box" Chamberlain, who had a .719 winning percentage (46-18) for the 1889 St. Louis entry in that league while throwing at least one game with both hands.
But it does include "One Tough Dominican."
Find out where he ranks as we present Hummel's top 25, in descending order, and the franchise's all-time 13-man pitching staff:
50. KYLE LOHSE
STL SEASONS: 2008-12
CREDENTIALS: Led National League in winning percentage at .824 with 16-3 season in 2012.
49. WOODY WILLIAMS
STL SEASONS: 2001-04
CREDENTIALS: Righthander had a .672 winning percentage (45-22), plus three postseason wins.
48. JASON MOTTE
STL SEASONS: 2008-14
CREDENTIALS: Converted catcher led league with 45 saves in 2012 after getting final out of 2011 World Series.
47. MILES MIKOLAS
STL SEASONS: 2018-current
CREDENTIALS: Only one year as a Cardinal, but Mikolas had a brilliant 18-4 season in 2018, leading the National League in winning percentage and tying for most victories. The key: he had fewer walks (29) than starts (32).
46. TOM HENKE
STL SEASONS: 1995
CREDENTIALS: Only one season with the club, but Henke went out with a bang in his final big-league year with 36 saves and a 1.82 ERA.
45. DARRYL KILE
STL SEASONS: 2000-02
CREDENTIALS: Kile, whose career ended tragically when he died in a Chicago hotel room in 2002, won 20 and 16 in his only two full seasons here.
44. CARLOS MARTINEZ
STL SEASONS: 2013-current
CREDENTIALS: He’ll have time to move higher on this list, but almost anybody ranked in the top 50 would take his stuff. He's a two-time All-Star.
43. AL HRABOSKY
STL SEASONS: 1970-77
CREDENTIALS: “Mad Hungarian” started a long line of elite closers with his dominance in the mid-1970s, including 13-3 mark with 22 saves in 1975.
42. MICHAEL WACHA
STL SEASONS: 2013-current
CREDENTIALS: Won four games in 2013 postseason as a rookie, earning MVP award in NLCS. Two years later he was an All-Star within a 17-7 season.
41. TED WILKS
STL SEASONS: 1944-51
CREDENTIALS: Righthander was 51-20 with a 3.26 ERA for Cardinals and was a key pitcher for the 1944 and 1946 World Series champs.
40. JOE HOERNER
STL SEASONS: 1966-69
CREDENTIALS: Lefthanded bullpen ace was big part of NL champs in 1967-68, with a 1.47 ERA in 1968.
39. BOB TEWKSBURY
STL SEASONS: 1989-94
CREDENTIALS: Tewksbury produced five consecutive double-figure win seasons, topped by 16-5 in his All-Star season of 1992.
38. CY YOUNG
STL SEASONS: 1899-1900
CREDENTIALS: Scored only 45 of his 511 wins for the Cardinals over two seasons. But, he’s Cy Young.
37. DENNIS ECKERSLEY
STL SEASONS: 1996-97
CREDENTIALS: "Eck" is a Hall of Famer because of what he did elsewhere but he had 66 saves when he was ages 41 and 42 here.
36. MURRY DICKSON
STL SEASONS: 1942-48; 1956-57
CREDENTIALS: Was 72-54 for Cardinals and pitched in two World Series in 1943 and 1946.
35. FLINT RHEM
STL SEASONS: 1924-32; '34, '36
CREDENTIALS: Righthander was 81-63 for Cardinals, including 20 wins for St. Louis’ first World Series champs in 1926.
34. LINDY MCDANIEL
STL SEASONS: 1955-62
CREDENTIALS: Going from the rotation to the bullpen, he had 66 wins and 66 saves from 1956-62 with four double-figure win years.
33. RED MUNGER
STL SEASONS: 1943-52
CREDENTIALS: Righthander was 74-49 for the Cardinals and pitched a complete-game three-hitter to win a game in the 1946 World Series.
32. CURT SIMMONS
STL SEASONS: 1960-65
CREDENTIALS: Lefthander won 18 games for World Series champions in 1964.
31. RAY SADECKI
STL SEASONS: 1960-66; '75
CREDENTIALS: Southpaw won 20 for ’64 World Series champions. He was good enough to get Orlando Cepeda from the Giants in a 1966 trade.
30. LANCE LYNN
STL SEASONS: 2011-17
CREDENTIALS: Averaged 15 wins a season from 2013-17, with a high of 18 in 2012, his first full season.
29. NELSON BRILES
STL SEASONS: 1965-70
CREDENTIALS: Inserted in the '67 rotation in late July after Bob Gibson suffered a broken leg, Briles was 4-4 at the time and finished with a 14-5 record and the NL's best win percentage. He followed up by winning 19 games for the NL champs in 1968.
28. ERNIE BROGLIO
STL SEASONS: 1959-64
CREDENTIALS: Led National League with 21 wins in 1960. His 18 victories in 1963 made him an attractive enough trade chip to secure Lou Brock the next year. Sore-armed Broglio won seven games in three seasons for the Cubs. Brock wound up in Cooperstown.
27. GERRY STALEY
STL SEASONS: 1947-54
CREDENTIALS: Had 89 Cardinals wins and 19 saves, with five consecutive double-figure win seasons, including 19 in '51 and 18 in '53.
26. BILL HALLAHAN
STL SEASONS: 1925-36
CREDENTIALS: “Wild Bill” won 19 games for the World Series champions in the 1931 regular season and two in the Series when he had an 0.69 ERA.
25. AL BRAZLE
STL SEASONS: 1943, 1946-54
CREDENTIALS: A dual threat, he won 97 games and saved 59 for the Cardinals, unofficially leading the league twice in saves.
24. LARRY JACKSON
STL SEASONS: 1955-62
CREDENTIALS: Was 101-86 for Cardinals with six consecutive seasons of double-figure victories. (True story: In 1957, Jackson became the first Idaho native to make an All-Star roster. To celebrate, Idaho's governor shipped a sack of potatoes to every NL All-Star.)
23. TREVOR ROSENTHAL
STL SEASONS: 2012-17
CREDENTIALS: "Rosey" had back-to-back seasons of 45 and 48 saves before encountering arm trouble and sitting out the 2018 season.
22. LON WARNEKE
STL SEASONS: 1937-42
CREDENTIALS: Righthander had six double-figure-win years in succession, threw a no-hitter in 1941 and had a lifetime .629 winning percentage for the Cardinals.
21. TODD WORRELL
STL SEASONS: 1985-92
CREDENTIALS: Six-foot-five righthander had three successive 30-plus save seasons and won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1986. Also made eight outfield appearances when Whitey Herzog would bring Worrell into a game to pitch, then send him to the outfield when a lefty reliever was summoned for a lefthanded batter, then bring him back to the mound.
20. JOHN TUDOR
STL SEASONS: 1985-88; 1990
CREDENTIALS: Soft-tossing southpaw had .705 winning percentage and 21 wins, including 10 shutouts for ’85 NL champs. Tudor started that season 1-7, then finished with a 20-1 run.
19. MATT MORRIS
STL SEASONS: 1997-2005
CREDENTIALS: His 101 wins featured a National League-best 22 in the Cardinals' 2001 playoff season. Runner-up for Rookie of the Year in '97 and third in the '01 Cy Young voting.
18. MAX LANIER
STL SEASONS: 1938-46; 1949-51
CREDENTIALS: Lefthander won 101 games for the Cardinals, 20 of them shutouts. Lanier was 6-0 with six complete games in 1946 when he jumped to the Mexican League. He was suspended from playing organized baseball in the U.S. and wasn't reinstated until 1949, when he rejoined the Cardinals.
17. GROVER CLEVELAND ALEXANDER
STL SEASONS: 1926-29
CREDENTIALS: "Ol' Pete" had one of the biggest strikeouts in club history, whiffing Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in Game 7 of the ’26 Series against the mighty Yankees. Baseball's third-winningest pitcher all-time won 21 games as a 40-year-old and 16 as a 41-year-old for the Cardinals.
16. BILL SHERDEL
STL SEASONS: 1918-1930; 1932
CREDENTIALS: Lefthander was 153-131 for the Cardinals, winning 16 for the 1926 World Series champions and 21 for the '28 NL pennant-winners.
15. BILL DOAK
STL SEASONS: 1913-1924; 1929
CREDENTIALS: “Spittin’ Bill” won 140 games for the Cardinals between 1914-23 and many of those teams were not very good. He had the NL's lowest ERA twice, including a 1.72 mark in '14.
14. STEVE CARLTON
STL SEASONS: 1965-1971
CREDENTIALS: Had five consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins for Cardinals, capped by 20 in 1971. And then he was gone. Owner Gussie Busch traded the future Hall of Famer to the Phillies after a salary dispute over $5,000.
ALL-TIME CARDS STAFF ... STARTING WITH NO. 13: HOWIE POLLET
Since teams often have 13 pitchers on their staffs now, here is a version of the Cardinals’ all-time staff, beginning with Howie Pollet, who ranked No. 13 in our top 50:
STL SEASONS: 1941-43; 1946-51
CREDENTIALS: Lefty had his career interrupted by World War II but returned to win 20 games for the 1946 World Series champs and 21 in 1949. Pollet Led National League in ERA in 1943 (1.75) and in 1946 (2.10). Little-known fact: He was pitching coach for Cardinals’ 1964 World Series champions.
12. BOB FORSCH
STL SEASONS: 1974-88
CREDENTIALS: Ten seasons of 10 or more wins for the Cardinals, including 20 victories in 1977. "Forschie" had two no-hitters and posted 168 victories, third on the Cardinals’ career list. He turned the momentum toward the Cardinals in the 1987 NLCS by drilling “One Flap Down” Jeffrey Leonard with a pitch.
11. BRUCE SUTTER
STL SEASONS: 1981-84
CREDENTIALS: Split-fingered practitioner threw a rare high fastball past Milwaukee’s Gorman Thomas to end the 1982 World Series. His next biggest pitch of that season was getting Phillies’ Mike Schmidt to hit into a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded in a pivotal pennant-race game.
10. HARRY BRECHEEN
STL SEASONS: 1940; 1943-52
CREDENTIALS: Little lefthander known as "The Cat" had a 128-79 mark for the Cardinals, highlighted by a 20-win season in 1948. His modest 15-15 record in 1946 can be overlooked because he won three games in the World Series — including Game 6 as a starter and Game 7 as a reliever — with an 0.45 ERA.
9. JOAQUIN ANDUJAR
STL SEASONS: 1981-85
CREDENTIALS: The last Cardinal to win 20 games in successive seasons was “One Tough Dominican” in 1984-85. He was 3-0 in the 1982 postseason as the Cardinals won the World Series. And, if he were still alive, he would remind you of the grand slam he hit in 1984.
8. LEE SMITH
STL SEASONS: 1990-93
CREDENTIALS: Hall of Fame-bound reliever is the only Cardinal to post three consecutive 40-save seasons (1991-93). He's also probably the only Cardinal never to have gray pants in spring training — he did not make any Grapefruit League trips. When asked why he didn’t at least jog in from the bullpen when he was summoned to the mound, Smith responded, “Ever see anybody run in to face Mike Schmidt?”
7. MORT COOPER
STL SEASONS: 1938-45
CREDENTIALS: A big pitcher for his day, the 6-2, 210-pounder was the last Cardinal to win 20 or more games three years in a row, from 1942-44. Cooper recorded a 22-7 mark with a 1.78 ERA and 10 shutouts in the World Series championship year of 1942, when he was the National League MVP. A bitter contract dispute after the 1944 season led to Cooper being traded early in the 1945 season. He finished 105-50 for his Cardinals career.
6. JASON ISRINGHAUSEN
STL SEASONS: 2002-08
CREDENTIALS: "Izzy" is the Cardinals' record-holder at 217 saves, with six seasons of 30 or more saves, including a league-leading 47 in 2004. The Piasa Southwestern High product had 2.98 ERA in St. Louis and also had eight postseason saves, which might have been more if he hadn’t been hurt at the end of the 2006 season.
5. CHRIS CARPENTER
STL SEASONS: 2004-12
CREDENTIALS: If you thought he was good in the regular season, which he was (95-44, .683 win percentage) for the Cardinals, consider that he was 10-4 in 18 postseason starts, featuring a 3-0 mark in two World Series. One wonders what would have happened if he could have back virtually four seasons he was out with injuries.
4. ADAM WAINWRIGHT
STL SEASONS: 2005-current
CREDENTIALS: “Waino” had a remarkable run between 2009-14 (he missed 2011 with elbow injury), winning 20 games twice and also 19 games two times, with the 19-win years including his leading the National League in innings pitched. As a reliever in the 2006 postseason, he recorded four saves. Three of those came as the last outs in the divisional round, the NLCS and the World Series.
2019 update: At age 37, Wainwright returned from an injury-shortened '18 season to win 14 games and make two postseason starts for the NL Central Division champions.
3. JESSE 'POP' HAINES
STL SEASONS: 1920-37
CREDENTIALS: His 210 wins for the Cardinals rank second on the all-time list. Haines had 10 seasons of double-figure wins, three of them 20-victory seasons, and he pitched in four World Series — 1926, 1928, 1930 and 1934, when he was 41 years old. Haines’ no-hitter in St. Louis against Boston in 1924 was the last previous Cardinals’ no-hitter in St. Louis before Bob Forsch authored one in 1978. He pitched his first game as a Cincinnati Red in 1918. The next 554 came with the Cardinals.
2. DIZZY DEAN
STL SEASONS: 1930; 1932-37
CREDENTIALS: Had a line drive by Earl Averill in the 1937 All-Star Game not fractured his big toe (“Fractured, hell. The damn thing’s broken,” Dean was quoted as saying), Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean might have had another five years like his five between 1932-36. He won 120 games in that span, including 30 in 1934 when he was the last National League pitcher to win that many. He hurt his arm trying to favor the foot and was never the same.
At the end of the 1947 season, he briefly came out of the broadcast booth to pitch four scoreless innings at age 37 for the St. Louis Browns, whose staff he had criticized on the air. But he suffered a hamstring pull running the bases after a single, and afterward said he was thankful the pulled muscle he suffered wasn’t in his mouth.
1. BOB GIBSON
STL SEASONS: 1959-75
CREDENTIALS: So many accomplishments but, excluding the record-shattering 1.12 ERA 50 years ago, the most stunning might have been Gibby's complete-game total. Not only did he have 251 wins, but he had 255 complete games. Gibson produced 14 double-figure win seasons.
His World Series mark was exemplary. In nine starts, three each in 1964, 1967 and 1968, he pitched 81 innings, winning seven of nine games. In one of those games, his first one in 1964, he worked eight innings. In one he worked 10 innings. In the other seven, he pitched nine-inning complete games.
Keep up with the latest Cardinals coverage from our award-winning team of reporters and columnists.