There has been a position battle for the St. Louis Cardinals’ 5th starter position this Spring. Recently, a clear front runner has the upper hand.
The St. Louis Cardinals and their fans were dealt a pretty big blow when the news came out at the beginning of Spring Training that should-be-ace, Carlos Martinez, had not strengthened his arm in the right ways this offseason and would be delayed in his throwing program.
The first delay came and went and then more delays made it obvious before the team actually came out and announced it: Carlos Martinez was not going to be ready for the start of the Regular Season. As frustrating as this is, I don’t wanna beat a dead horse and whine about Martinez, but rather focus on the opportunity that this creates.
These two names were at the top of the pile for the backup starters that includes these two as well as Austin Gomber, Ryan Helsley, Alex Reyes, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and more. While Reyes’ role has been defined, Gant may not be in the top two of those players on that list, but the 26-year-old is out of minor league options and is too valuable to make it through waivers-so he must stay on the 25-man roster.
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Last year, Gant provided valuable innings both as a starter and a reliever putting up a 3.47 ERA over 19 starts (26 games) good for a 112 ERA+. For anybody who thinks that Gant didn’t play a big enough role last year, for reference he started more games than Martinez last year… Gant has the experience to fill either the starter role or a long-reliever role and proved that last year.
Moving over to Hudson, the former first-round pick really showed some great potential last year out of the bullpen. Appearing out of the bullpen in 26 games throwing 27.1 innings last year, Hudson put up a stellar 2.63 ERA and 149 ERA+.
While both pitchers were good last year, the whole point of a position battle is that they happen during Spring Training. So let’s check how they’ve done so far.
Gant has started three games (appeared in 5) and thrown 13 innings putting up a 3.46 ERA. While his 4.2 K/9 is not where you’d love to see it, but he has balanced that with a stellar 2.1 BB/9. I have watched two of Gant’s three starts and I think he has looked pretty good with the exception of a couple of bad innings. The biggest issue I have seen has been efficiency. Multiple times (especially in later starts) he has not been able to go as deep into the game because he hit the pitch limit for the day.
Unfortunately, this is something that happens to pitchers with low strikeout percentages. Gant has a good fastball and changeup, but if he can’t get the batter to put the ball in play, the at-bats go on forever with foul balls.
While Gant has been good, Hudson has been great this Spring. Hudson has also appeared in five games but started four of them. In his starts, Hudson has only put up a measly 1.72 ERA while throwing 15.2 innings. Continuing the comparison, Hudson has a beautiful pairing of a 9.8 K/9 and a 2.3 BB/9.
In watching Hudson’s starts, the strikeouts have kept his efficiency stellar and while the numbers aren’t recorded on it, he has been causing an insane number of ground balls. Hudson has always been a power sinker guy but this year his slider and curveball have looked amazing.
To my knowledge, Shildt has not officially given the spot to one player or the other, but with Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon being optioned to Memphis this week, he did make it clear that both Gant and Hudson were going to be on the MLB team (one starting one relieving).
The St. Louis Post Dispatch has been writing like Hudson has the job, and I haven’t seen an official report but in my mind it’s all but been made up. Gant is the experienced and reliable choice but Hudson has snuck up and stole the job this Spring.
Gant in the bullpen as the long-man doesn’t hurt anything. He has proven he is a reliable option in that role and I love him in it. Hudson should now get his chance to be this year’s version of Jack Flaherty. Even if he doesn’t put up Flaherty’s numbers from last year, Hudson should be a reliable option at the back end of the rotation.
With the season starting just next week, I would expect that the club will officially announce Hudson as the fifth starter sometime soon. Even if it does end up being Gant in that role, Hudson proved last year that he can perform out of the bullpen and would add strength what is already shaping up to be a strong group.