St. Louis Cardinals fans waited 21 months to see pitching phenom Alex Reyes’ return to the major leagues last week in Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, they’ll be waiting another 10 months before they see him pitch in a big league game again.
The team announced Wednesday that Reyes will be lost again after undergoing surgery to reattach a right lat tendon. The procedure carries a six-month recovery, meaning Reyes’ season is over after just four innings.
It’s another devastating setback for one of baseball’s prized young prospects. Reyes, 23, made his major league debut on Aug. 9, 2016, but has appeared in just 13 games for the Cardinals since then. Injuries have been the culprit, and it appears they’ll continue haunting him into 2019.
Tommy John surgery
Reyes’ first significant setback occurred in February of 2017, when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
At the time, Reyes was coming off a brief but impressive run with St. Louis to end the 2016 season. Reyes appeared in 12 games, including five as a starting pitcher. He compiled a brilliant 1.57 ERA while striking out 52 batters over 46 innings. He more than lived up to his ranking as baseball’s No 3 overall prospect.
The Cardinals felt he was poised for a true breakout season in 2017. Then came news of his injury on just the second day of spring training. Reyes would be sidelined for 14 months.
Reyes made his first rehab start in the minor leagues in early May and immediately embarked on one of the most dominant stretches we’ve seen from a rehabbing pitcher.
Alex Reyes in four rehab starts:
Peoria: 5.0 scoreless IP, 1 H, 12 Ks.
Palm Beach: 3.2 scoreless IP, 4 H, 6 Ks.
Springfield: 7.2 scoreless IP, 1 H, 13 Ks.
Memphis: 7.0 scoreless IP, 1 H, 13 Ks.
0.00 ERA, 7 H, 44 Ks. #STLCards
— Sammy Stava (@StavaonSTL) May 25, 2018
The final outing included a Pacific Coast League record that saw Reyes strike out nine consecutive batters.
Needless to say, Reyes was giving the Cardinals hope that he could make a huge impact upon his return.
A new injury
On May 30, Reyes finally returned to the major leagues in a start against the Milwaukee Brewers. He looked sharp early, but suffered from a sharp decline in velocity as the outing went along. Reyes was removed from the game after throwing four innings and 70 pitches. There were immediate concerns that something had gone wrong physically, but Reyes was quick to dismiss those concerns after the game.
The following day brought more ominous news. Reyes was immediately placed on the disabled list after admitting to the Cardinals athletic trainers that he was in pain. A series of tests were run that led to Wednesday’s diagnosis.
What next for Alex Reyes?
Aside from the obvious, which is several more months of rehab, Reyes will be forced to call on his resolve. He’s not the first young pitcher to have his early career derailed by injuries. He also wouldn’t be the first to come back and establish himself as a premier pitcher. The battle he’ll face will be just as much mental as physical.
All he has to do is look across the Cardinals clubhouse to find a notable success story. Adam Wainwright bounced back from injuries early in his career, including Tommy John surgery, to become a Cardinals legend. Though Wainwright’s career might be winding down now, he can no doubt serve as inspiration.
What does Reyes’ loss mean for the Cardinals?
It hurts, but not as much as it might for other contenders.
The good news for St. Louis is that ace Carlos Martinez returned from injury Tuesday night and looked healthy. He’s obviously the key man in the rotation, especially with Wainwright now out of the picture.
Veteran Michael Wacha looks terrific to begin the season. As do surprising newcomer Miles Mikolas and rookie Jack Flaherty. If they continue pitching well, St. Louis can survive with Reyes. But it doesn’t mean they won’t miss him or wonder what could have been if he’d stayed healthy.
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