After over a year away from the game because of Tommy John surgery, St. Louis Cardinals righty Alex Reyes is finally coming back. Per multiple sources, Reyes has been activated from the 60-day disabled list today and will make his first start of the season this afternoon against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. It will be Reyes’ first appearance since September 29, 2016, when he tossed six innings of one-run ball against the Cincinnati Reds, striking out six in a no-decision.
Tommy John surgery is no laughing matter, though, so fans should temper their expectations of Reyes, at least for his first start. It could take an appearance or two on the major league level for him to get his wheels under him, but the 23-year-old still has a high ceiling despite coming back from an elbow injury.
And in a competitive NL Central (sans the Cincinnati Reds, of course), Reyes’ return could not be coming at a better time.
Reyes the pitcher
Reyes burst on the scene late in 2016 and immediately impressed. In 12 games, five of which he started, he posted a record of 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 52 strikeouts in 46 innings. The Elizabeth, New Jersey native also posted a respectable ground ball rate (GB%) of 43.2% and his hard contact rate was only 21.4%. Using a fastball, slider, changeup, and sometimes a curveball, Reyes was slowly looking like a future impact arm in the Cardinals’ rotation.
Reyes’ fastball velocity and his overall durability will be things to watch since he’s just getting back from Tommy John surgery, but early reports suggest he’s doing just fine. He didn’t allow a single earned run over 23 innings during his rehab assignment across four levels of the Cardinals’ minor league system, and he struck out 44 batters over that stretch too. Simply put, as serious as Tommy John surgery is, it doesn’t look like Reyes is any worse for the wear.
To give a better idea as to the timing of Reyes' 2018 debut, the Cardinals are having him pitch against a Milwaukee Brewers team that is in first place in the NL Central and four games ahead of St. Louis. Each team has won four games against the other this year, and that's despite St. Louis ranking 20th in MLB in runs scored. Given the new competitiveness of the division, St. Louis is actually playing quite well.
The Cardinals' pitching staff has also held its own, ranking seventh in baseball with a staff ERA of 3.52, but that number does not define St. Louis' work on the mound. In fact, it can be called lucky, which makes Reyes' return even more significant because the Cardinals have stayed competitive in the NL Central despite several pitchers not being at their best.
Adam Wainwright is showing continued signs of aging with a 4.00 ERA and 1.83 WHIP and is currently on the 60-day DL with elbow issues. Carlos Martinez, despite pitching well early on, is out with a strained lat muscle and is now on a rehab assignment. Righty Luke Weaver has been up and down all season, while Michael Wacha (6-1, 2.71 ERA) has assumed the ace's role in Martinez's absence.
This is where Reyes comes in. If he can show the same dominance on the mound he did last year and keep his walks down, then the NL Central race just got a lot more interesting. No matter how you look at it, the timing of Reyes' return is perfect with St. Louis currently facing Milwaukee and starting a four-game set with the feisty Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow.
If Reyes can set the tone with a quality start today, count on the Cardinals to continue making noise for the rest of the season.
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