The St. Louis Cardinals will have a surprising face in their rotation when they begin their season on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jordan Hicks, who had served as the Cardinals’ closer as recently as 2019, will open the year as the fifth starter, according to what manager Oliver Marmol announced on Wednesday.
Hicks, 25 years old, has never started or opened a game before in his big-league career. He was a starter earlier in his professional career, making 34 minor-league starts (including as recently as 2017) before he reached The Show. All that will change on Tuesday, when he’s scheduled to face the Kansas City Royals. Marmol, for his part, said he hopes that Hicks can get through two or three innings as the Cardinals build up his pitch count, according to MLB.com’s John Denton.
Hicks’ anointment to the rotation is odd on several levels. Foremost, he hasn’t even started yet this spring. Hicks entered Wednesday having thrown three frames across three appearances over the course of the exhibition season. There’s also the matter of his recent injury history. Hicks underwent Tommy John surgery during the summer of 2019, and he then opted-out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season over COVID-19-related health concerns stemming from his Type 1 diabetes. Hicks returned last spring, but he was limited to 10 appearances because of elbow inflammation.
There’s no denying that Hicks has been an effective big-league pitcher when healthy, albeit, again, entirely in a relief role. He’ll enter this season having compiled a 3.64 ERA (110 ERA+) and a 1.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116 innings. It’s unclear how his top-heavy arsenal will translate to seeing the opposition multiple times in a game. He’s primarily been a sinker-slider pitcher, having tossed fewer than 30 changeups during the regular season for his career, according to Statcast’s data.
Still, the Cardinals have decided that Hicks is a better candidate than their other internal options. Now it’s up to him to prove them correct.