St. Louis Cardinals: Could Alex Reyes be a super-reliever?

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 25: Alex Reyes #29 of the St Louis Cardinals pitches in the fourth inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium on February 25, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 25: Alex Reyes #29 of the St Louis Cardinals pitches in the fourth inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium on February 25, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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Alex Reyes is hoping to make 2021 his second-straight healthy year in the MLB. Could he be a super-reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals?

Over the course of spring training, the competition for the St. Louis Cardinals’ 5th starter is going to be one of the few position battles that the team has. Unlike in years past, Carlos Martinez isn’t automatically being penciled in as a starter.

With Jack Flaherty, Kwang Hyun Kim, Adam Wainwright, and Miles Mikolas taking up the first four spots, there are a lot of names that will be competing for the final opening. Among that group is going to be Alex Reyes.

Reyes, now 26, has had his story chronicled many times. From the pre-debut hype to the electric first season to the years of injury after, fans know his story.

In 2020, Reyes put together the first consistent season that he has had since 2016. While it was over just 19.2 innings after recovering from COVID-19, Reyes had a 3.20 ERA and struck out 27 batters. He still has the electric stuff and high-octane fastball that made him a top prospect. However, 2020’s sample size also reminded fans of Reyes’ control issues as he walked 14 batters.

When it comes to the 5th starter battle, Carlos Martinez has the upper hand due to his experience in the role and a stellar showing in winter ball. Assuming he wins the spot, what role does Reyes fit best in afterward?

To me, it would be very interesting to see Reyes be a guy who throws 2-3 innings in most of his appearances.

Using the word “long man” to describe my idea of this role isn’t incorrect, but it is less dignified. There is a chance that starters struggle to go deep into games this year because of the light workload last year. If starters are routinely going 5.0 innings, Reyes could be a 2-3 inning threat that can still throw in competitive games.

Long relievers are usually saved for games that are already lost or when starters just go a couple of innings. Reyes doesn’t fit that role.

One of the biggest bashes against Reyes is his control and for good reason. He’s averaged a 5.6 BB/9 over his career. As a starter, walking that many batters quickly leads to high pitch counts and early exits from games. As a closer/late-inning reliever, walking batters can let a game get out of hand.

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If Reyes could come in and face one trip through the batting order over 2-3 innings, it could be the perfect sweet spot for the righty.

The fact that this type of reliever hasn’t been utilized before could be a sign that this isn’t realistic. If Reyes threw 2-3 innings the majority of the time, could he throw that three times a week? Twice? It’s tough to know.

This type of reliever also comes with the caveat that he’s going to have to be able to get ready to pitch for that long without warning. This could be another pitfall.

Making Reyes a piggyback reliever for one of the five starters could be another option, having both he and whoever he’s paired up with go 3-4 innings, but that also may not work over the entire season.

It may require some creativity from manager Mike Shildt, but if Alex Reyes could handle the mental and physical side of pitching longer relief outings multiple times a week, he could cover long stretches of games that would normally be covered by 2-3 relievers.

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Unless Reyes can control his walks, he doesn’t seem perfectly suited for a starter or late-inning role. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a middle ground for the righty to find a home at.

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