The St. Louis Cardinals lost their fireball-throwing closer Jordan Hicks on Monday to a torn UCL and need to find a replacement from within soon.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ hopes to compete in the NL Central this season took a big hit on Monday with some devastating injury news.
Jordan Hicks, the Cardinals’ 22-year-old strong-armed closer, left the Cardinals’ game on Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels after feeling a pull in his right triceps. While the club was originally optimistic about the injury, on Monday it was revealed that Hicks suffered a torn UCL in his throwing arm. The Cardinals are keeping their options open, but Hicks will likely need Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for the rest of the season and most of next year.
The injury comes at a bad time for the Cardinals as they try to keep pace with the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers in their own division. Hicks, in his first season as the full-time closer, has converted 14 of his 15 save opportunities this season and has a 3.14 ERA while striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings. But what really stands out about the right-hander is his velocity. Hicks is averaging 101.2 mph on his fastball this season, by far the highest in the league and the only pitcher above 100 mph.
While the Cardinals can talk about whether this type of injury for a pitcher who throws so hard was inevitable, they must begin the process of finding his replacement. Fortunately, their deep bullpen gives them plenty of options to fill in for Hicks without looking to make a trade.
Foremost among these candidates is the Cardinals’ prized offseason free agency acquisition, Andrew Miller. The 34-year-old Miller got off to a slow start in his first season in St. Louis, pitching to an ERA above five in his first 19 appearances. In his last 16 games, however, the left-hander has given up just four earned runs, good for a 3.09 ERA. Miller hasn’t been a full-time closer since 2015 when he saved 36 games for the New York Yankees, but he has made two All-Star games in the past three years as one of the top setup men in the league.
The Cardinals also welcomed back Carlos Martinez in May. The two-time All-Star starter missed the first six weeks of the season with a rotator cuff injury and has transitioned to a role in the bullpen since returning. In 13 games in relief this year he has a 3.00 ERA. Martinez is relying more on his fastball coming out of the bullpen, throwing it over 15 percent more often than he did last year. His velocity has also increased by two to 95.9 mph.
The only other Cardinals pitcher with more than two saves this season other than Hicks is right-hander John Gant. The 26-year-old is a perfect 7-0 in 35 games out of the bullpen with three saves and a 2.40 ERA. Like Hicks, right-hander Giovanny Gallegos is a strikeout pitcher with 12.7 per-nine innings in 34.2 innings this season. The 27-year-old, though, has never saved a game in his Major League career.
Whichever of these pitchers manager Mike Shildt decides to replace Hicks, the Cardinals have to hope they keep up Hicks’ production. At 40-37, the Cardinals trail the Cubs by just two games in the NL Central and are tied with the Colorado Rockies for the second Wild Card spot.