The pitcher who can prevent the St. Louis Cardinals rotation from falling apart? Jake Woodford, the young right-hander the organization loves.
With the news that the St. Louis Cardinals are unlikely to add external pitching, both to the rotation and bullpen, that means they will rely on their internal options to fill the voids of Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes.
In the rotation, the Cardinals already have Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson. They signed Steven Matz to a four-year, $44 million contract and he will slide behind Wainwright. But the secret key to keeping the rotation together, at least while Flaherty is out, is right-hander Jake Woodford.
It remains unclear how long Flaherty is out, as the Cardinals are being noncommittal on a timetable for his return. But Woodford, 25, is a young arm the organization is high on and believes could pitch meaningful innings if he’s called upon. In 26 games last season, including eight starts, he posted a 3.99 ERA in 67.2 innings pitched.
If Woodford is indeed going to step up, he will have to improve his control. He had 25 walks last season and hit eight batters. And since Flaherty is out for Opening Day, and potentially longer, he is going to be thrust into action in the back-end of the rotation.
Additionally, the Cardinals have Matthew Liberatore looming in the minors as another rotation option, but he won’t debut until later in the season. Even then, their ideal plan is to implement him as a reliever in 2022, and transition him to the rotation in 2023 with some major-league experience under his belt.
Which adds to the importance of Woodford, as well as the entire rotation staying healthy. If last season was any indication, that could be a challenge – and could once again test their internal depth, making Woodford a sneaky key to the start of the Cardinals’ season.