Should the St. Louis Cardinals stop trusting Alex Reyes?

Alex Reyes #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after walking three consecutive batters against the Atlanta Braves in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on August 5, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Alex Reyes #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after walking three consecutive batters against the Atlanta Braves in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on August 5, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

For as high as the peaks were, the lows make it hard for the Cardinals to trust Alex Reyes moving forward.

As Alex Reyes delivered what would be the last pitch of the St. Louis Cardinals 2021 season to Los Angeles Dodgers hitter Chris Taylor in the bottom of the ninth inning in the National League Wild Card game, it was a fitting end. Reyes had an extreme season. He went from being elite to being perhaps the least reliable option in the bullpen in the span of a handful of appearances. With 2021 in the past for the Cardinals, the page turns to 2022. After the second half of the 2021 season, a major question looms: can Reyes be trusted?

Reyes was an All-Star in 2021 and put together a remarkable first half of the season. As a closer, he was fantastic. I’ve been an advocate of Reyes in a late inning bullpen role for a while now, and he proved why. After the All-Star break, things changed. The nearly unhittable Reyes was shaky and handed away some games that probably should have been won. It was basically two different seasons bundled together into one for Reyes. In his first half, he was one of the best relief pitchers in the sport. In the second half, it was a chore to watch him come into games, with the uneasy sense that there was impending doom around the corner.

When Reyes allowed the walk-off home run to Chris Taylor, it was an amplification of his last few months. It wasn’t an isolated event. That was a continuing trend, teed up for a national audience. It’s easy to kick the guy when he’s down, and let’s be clear here that my reasoning for writing this is not based on that Wild Card game. It’s based on the last several months, and really, the entire scope of Reyes’s career to date.

As a top prospect, the sky was the limit. It has taken Reyes many years to reach the point of having consistent success in the major leagues, as he seemed on the verge of doing this season. Injuries have been a huge hurdle for Reyes, as Cardinals fans know. He was able to get through the entire 2021 season healthy and it’s good to see the talented pitcher make it through the season without any injuries. If he is able to put the injury issues behind him, that would be a big step toward proving he’s trustworthy.

Some fans and others still want to see Alex Reyes in the starting rotation. Personally, I disagree with that. Even as a starting pitcher in the minor leagues, Reyes showed some warning signs.

The most innings he has even thrown in a season was 109.1 back in 2014. As a starting pitcher, ideally, he’d be in the 150+ inning range for an MLB starter. After all the injuries and spending all of his roller coaster 2021 season in the bullpen, why mess with trying to stretch him out to start? It could create more issues than it solves. Jordan Hicks is essentially looking at two missed seasons and taking Reyes from the bullpen leaves a vacancy in the closer role. Also, the starting rotation has a variety of options and the Cardinals could be wise to explore the pitching market this upcoming offseason. There’s no certainty that a stretched out Reyes would even be one of the top five options for the starting rotation.

Walks have been another issue. Late in the 2021 season, the home runs piled up as well. Those two things don’t mix well for a pitcher and if Reyes is struggling to do so for an inning or two to limit them, what makes people confident he can do it for 5 or more? Sorry, but I don’t understand the reasoning or excitement for moving Reyes to the starting rotation.

Is it possible that people feel the need for Reyes to start to be a validation of his prospect ranking? One of the top prospects in the entire sport and never given a real chance to be a starting pitcher? Reyes the closer showed a lot of upside. Reyes as a starter has also shown some glimmers of what makes him such a good pitcher and why he was such a highly touted prospect, but not for several years. Looking at the reality through the lens of the here and now, not only do I think the Reyes as a starter idea needs to be halted, the question of how reliable he is for the team moving forward needs to be discussed.

I don’t want to call Reyes a bust, and I won’t. Injuries derailed his promising career and altered his trajectory. He can and will be a big contributor for the St. Louis Cardinals long-term, but expectations must be adjusted.

Alex Reyes as a starting pitcher probably isn’t going to work. There was a time and place for it but that has passed now. There is an opportunity for Reyes to put together a more consistent 2022 season and if he does, maybe we can revisit the idea of him starting at a late date. But first Reyes has to put together a full, healthy, and consistent season and so far he just hasn’t. I expect him to be an important fixture on the pitching staff in some form next season, but just handing him a rotation spot or the closer’s role for 2022 seems a bit premature.

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Some level of trust in Reyes was surely lost in the second half of 2021. He has a chance to earn that back and stake his claim as one of the best pitchers on the Cardinals. There’s no doubt he has that ability. The question is, will talent prevail, or is it time to reconsider the level of trust the team has in Reyes?