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Despite workload limitations, Sonny Gray set to make season debut: Cardinals Extra

After going a month without pitching in an official game because of a hamstring injury suffered in early March, the Cardinals’ top free-agent signee, Sonny Gray, is set for his St. Louis debut.

The right-hander on Sunday was announced as the starter for Tuesday’s game at home against the Phillies, though it will come with a limit of about 65 pitches likely for the three-time All-Star.

“I’m more than capable to go out and compete in a big-league game,” Gray said ahead of his return. “We talked through it, and as long as it worked out where it didn’t feel like we were going to put too much stress on the bullpen or this and that, and collectively as a team, I wasn’t going to put the team in a bad spot by maybe only having 60 to 70 pitches.”

Gray, 34, began the season on the 15-day injured list with a “mild” hamstring tear suffered in the first week of March during a spring training start against the Astros. On multiple occasions, Gray’s rehab plans have been altered by weather. He had an intended backfield start in a minor-league spring training game washed away because of rain. Last Wednesday, the righty was set for a rehab start with Triple A Memphis in Indianapolis, but rain shifted plans and instead led the righty to Springfield, Missouri, where he threw a 54-pitch simulated game with the Cardinals’ Class AA club.

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Ahead of the Cardinals’ home opener last Thursday, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Gray’s next start would come with Memphis this week.

But in conversations between Gray, the Cardinals’ coaching staff and the front office, the righty expressed “confidence” that he’s ready for his first start as a Cardinal, even if it would be with a limited workload. He described those conversations as “open and honest” and included details on what that could mean for the bullpen.

Following the Cardinals’ 10-3 loss Sunday to Miami, the 52 2/3 combined innings from Cardinals starters in the club’s first 10 games were tied for the fifth-most in the majors. That ability of the starting rotation to cover innings through the season’s first week and a half has left the club’s bullpen to cover 34 1/3 innings, tied for 16th-most innings in the league.

“That was kind of the main thing. Just make sure that we weren’t going to put anybody else in a bad spot by that happening,” Gray said. “I feel like we’re normal. We’re capable of getting outs.”

Mikolas on MLBPA, MLB statements

Amid a flurry of pitcher injuries across Major League Baseball a year after the introduction of the pitch clock, players association executive director Tony Clark said the concerns about the health impacts of the reduced pitch clock in 2024 “have only intensified.”

Hours after Clark’s statement, MLB responded by saying Clark’s statement “ignores the empirical evidence and much more significant long-term trend, over multiple decades, of velocity and spin increases that are highly correlated with arm injuries.”

When the pitch clocked debuted in the majors a season ago, pitchers had 15 seconds to deliver a pitch with no runners on base and 20 seconds with runners on. MLB’s competition committee approved a reduction of time with runners on 18 seconds for this season. Since the start of spring training, starters including the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, Braves’ Spencer Strider and Guardians’ Shane Bieber have been sidelined because of arm injuries. Bieber and Miami’s Eury Perez reportedly are set to undergo Tommy John surgery.

“I don’t know what the injury numbers are,” said starter Miles Mikolas, the Cardinals’ player representative for the union. “I can say it personally and I think most of the guys around the league don’t didn’t mind the 20-second pitch clock. … The original idea of the pitch clock I don’t think is a bad idea.

“But when you change something and you’ve only had a year to kind of look at what effects it has on player health and pitcher health, I think it’s just something where the players would have liked a little more time to just see how it affects guys long term as opposed to just over one season because now you’ve got guys that threw a lot last year on the pitch clock and they’re going to do it again this year in maybe an even a more abbreviated note.”

Helsley to work as traditional closer

Not only will Ryan Helsley continue to work as the Cardinals’ closer, but the former All-Star will have a more standard role in the club’s reshaped bullpen as the righty will typically be tasked with securing traditional three-out saves.

“I felt that’s the right thing based on the rest of our ’pen this year,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It’s not tasking him with, ‘We have a lead. Can you go get the rest of the outs available?’ I think we’re built in a way where we can trust guys to do their part. And if we have a lead in the ninth, we’ll hand him the baseball.”

Through five appearances in the first two weeks of the season, Helsley has a 3.60 ERA, five strikeouts in five innings and three saves.

Wainwright visits

After taking the stage of Chaifetz Arena as an opener for the Zac Brown Band on Saturday, former Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright was in attendance for Sunday’s game against the Marlins. The longtime starter spent time visiting former teammates and coaches before the game and joined the Cardinals broadcast on Bally Sports Midwest during the fourth inning.

Cardinals bench coach Daniel Descalso, Marlins manager and former Cardinal Skip Schumaker and Marmol were said to have attend Wainwright’s Saturday night performance.

Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley speaks to reporters about taking on a more traditional closer role in the dugout at Busch Stadium on April 7, 2024.

Lynn Worthy

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