Too many of my columns are overly long, and I don’t want you to work so hard when reading them. I plan to compensate by dropping in some shorties on a regular basis.
Let’s go skimming …
Here are my early-spring impressions of the five-member rotation.
As a bonus, I’ll throw in observations on two other pitchers that intrigue me.
JACK FLAHERTY: His first start was pushed back a couple of times, but it was worth the wait. In three scoreless innings against Houston on Monday, Jack allowed 1 hit (a solo) homer, walked one and struck out five. I don’t care if it was an exhibition game. He reminded us of what he was, and what he still could be. Because of injuries, Flaherty has worked only 52.1 major-league innings since the beginning of June, 2021. (His Fielding Independent ERA over the time was 5.31.) When Flaherty pitches with authority, it’s a reminder of what he was, and what he still can be. It’s a welcome sight. No STL pitcher is more important than Jack Flaherty in 2023. The word that fits best right now: Exhale.
MILES MIKOLAS: He’s off to the WBC, representing the United States of America. This is a big year for Mikolas, who can become a free agent after this season when he’ll be 34 years old. Healthy again after pitching just 44.2 total innings in his previous two seasons, Mikolas returned to form in 2022 by cranking through 202.1 innings. If we exclude one horrid start at the long-running joke of a ballpark known as Coors Field, Mikolas spun a 2.88 ERA in his other 31 starts. Mikolas looked snappy and sharp in his first two exhibition-game starts – allowing no runs, two hits and one walk with six strikeouts in 5 innings. The word that fits best right now: Impressive.
STEVEN MATZ: I’m an optimist about this lefty for 2023. I’m tossing out his hard-luck first season with the Cardinals. Injuries to his left shoulder and knee limited Matz to 15 appearances (10 starts) but he managed to turn in a respectable 3.78 Fielding Independent ERA. The worst part of his 2022 profile was a fluky home-run rate, with 16 percent of his fly balls going for home runs. That’s more of an outlier than anything. What I liked best was seeing Martz fire in for a 26 percent strikeout rate. And he was back Monday in his first appearance in a game this spring, striking out four of the nine Astros he faced over three hitless, scoreless innings. The word that fits best right now: Encouraging.
JORDAN MONTGOMERY: He was blasted in his first exhibition start, giving up five hits (including a homer) and four earned runs in three innings. But it’s hard to stress over a dude that was hitting 95 p.m. in his first outing. This 30-year-old left-handed veteran is coming off a strong 2022 season and he hasn’t spent any time on the non-Covid IL since missing 172 days in 2018 while recovering from elbow surgery. My point: some spring-training starts are far more important than others, and there’s no reason to be concerned by a rough first outing from an established, proven pitcher that has no health or age-related concerns. One factor in Monty’s first start: while adjusting to the new pitch clock, he hurried up his delivery and couldn’t find the right rhythm. The word that fits best right now: Proceed.
ADAM WAINWRIGHT: While participating in the WBC, hopefully he’ll sharpen up, increase his low velocity level, and yield fewer missiles to opposing hitters. The WBC competition might tell us about Wainwright’s quality and viability going forward. The word that fits best right now: Anxiety.
TINK HENCE: The 20-year-old prodigy is being brought along slowly, and the caution makes sense. He’s unlikely to do any pitching in the big leagues this season. But based on what we’ve seen from his raw-talent stuff this spring, Hence is ridiculously nasty. Throws in the high-90s, then buckles the knees of bewildered hitters when he tosses that knife-blade slider. What a natural. I texted a longtime MLB scout who works for an NL time to ask him about Hence. His answer: “If he can stay healthy, there are no limits on what he can accomplish.” The word that fits best right now: Wow.
JAKE WOODFORD: The dude that has the best ERA among St. Louis pitchers (minimum 77 innings) since September 2021 is looking good in Florida. No surprise, but what does it mean? Well, it depends on what the analytics department has to say. Doesn’t seem to matter that all Woodford does is get piles of outs. In his last 33 MLB appearances, Woodford has faced 300 batters and allowed just one home run while holding them to a subterranean .290 onbase percentage. The word that fits best right now: Mystery.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We recorded a new podcast on Monday, March 6. Please have a listen.
All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, and Spotrac.