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Reyes wraps up dominating rehab stint — he fans 13, allows 1 hit in 7 innings

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St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Jose Martinez (right) talks with pitcher Alex Reyes in the dugout during the May 17 game at Busch Stadium. Reyes was between minor-league rehab starts at the time. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

PITTSBURGH • Alex Reyes emphatically answered Thursday night in Memphis any questions that somehow might have lingered after his first three starts on the Cardinals’ medical rehabilitation program.

After making three outings covering 16 scoreless innings in which he struck out 31 hitters in stops at Palm Beach, Peoria and Springfield, the Cardinals’ righthander blew away the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Oklahoma City club. Reyes allowed just one hit, a third-inning single by Jacob Scavuzzo, and one walk over seven innings while striking out 13 more hitters, including nine in a row from the third into the sixth.

This surely was his last start as he completes his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery of February 2017, and he likely will come off the 60-day disabled list when the Cardinals are in Milwaukee next week.

His totals for four minor league starts were like video game stuff. In 23 scoreless innings, the 23-year-old allowed just seven hits and seven walks and struck out 44. On Thursday, he reached the 90-pitch plateau, throwing 62 strikes, and John Mozeliak, the president of baseball operations who was on hand, was mightily impressed.

“He worked extremely quickly, he obviously was very aggressive in the strike zone and he was completely overpowering at times, said Mozeliak, who said Reyes was clocked as high as 99 miles an hour. “He had everything working.”

What happens next is that Reyes will return to St. Louis to be examined by the medical staff and then is eligible to pitch in Milwaukee from Monday on.

When exactly is “to be determined,” said Mozeliak. “We’ll decide what makes the most sense.

“But he came back to prepare as a starter so he is likely to be used in the rotation.”

And Mozeliak said he didn’t think there would be any restrictions on how many innings Reyes can pitch before the end of the season.

“Due to the fact he’s going into the rotation at the end of May or in June, he should be able to go really as much as you could hope. I don’t think he will have a cap,” said Mozeliak.

The original plan this spring was for Reyes to join the club earlier in May, but a 40-man roster decision was made to put him on the 60-day list on March 28 and, while the Cardinals probably could have used Reyes before now, Mozeleiak said, “One good thing about having him on the 60-day list was that it allowed us not to have to push him.

“As far as performance goes, he’s been off the charts.”

Reyes, speaking to reporters after Memphis' 7-4 win, said, "I think (the Cardinals) did the right thing, taking their time" with his comeback.

He said he could not remember striking out nine in a row at any level and didn't realize it until he and catcher Carson Kelly saw it on the scoreboard. In the process, Reyes set a Pacific Coast League record.

"I'm hoping to be up there (with the Cardinals) pretty soon," Reyes said. "I feel ready. I feel 100 percent."

Mozeliak said he normally would offer a note of caution about a player moving from one level to the next.

“Big-league hitters are in a league of their own and there’s a reason for that,” said Mozeliak. “But every step along the way, he has been very impressive.”

With the imminent return of Reyes and, soon thereafter, Carlos Martinez from his lat strain, the Cardinals will have six top-shelf starters. But Mozeliak said, “We’ll worry about that then. Right now, it’s just exciting.”

The six would be Martinez, Reyes, Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. Pitching coach Mike Maddux also likes John Gant, who is pitching in Pittsburgh on Friday.

“It’s a great compliment to the organization to have this,” said Maddux. “We’re in a peculiar situation where we have six guys, even seven, who are major-league capable starters.

“Now, how do you do it? We’re going to find out. I’m curious to see. I think it will be a collaborative idea. For me to voice my (ideas) is not fair. We’ll sit down and talk about it.

“But, after the All-Star break, we’re going to need all six right away because we play six games in five days.”

The Cardinals, because of a rainout, will play five games in Chicago in four days from July 19-22 before moving to Cincinnati.

“It’s a good problem to have,” said Maddux. “Not that it’s a problem.

Maddux has coached in Washington, Milwaukee and Texas previously and has had six starters before “but not as of equal caliber” as the Cardinals have, he said.

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Although no one from the club had offered an estimate as to how long he would be out, the Cardinals shortstop said he had heard 'four to eight' weeks. 'That’s a huge range,' he said. '... Ask me next week. Hopefully, I’ll be close to swinging.'

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