Posted on June 24, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

St. Louis Cardinals Jordan Hicks
Image via SportingNews.com

For the St. Louis Cardinals, the road to the postseason just got a lot more difficult. The team announced on Monday that closer Jordan Hicks has a torn UCL in his pitching elbow. At the moment, the Cardinals are “determining the next course of action,” so nothing is official just yet. However, it seems unlikely that Hicks will pitch again in 2019.

The 22-year-old Hicks was removed from Saturday’s game against the Angels with two outs in the 9th inning. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina noticed Hicks trying to stretch out his arm, prompting a visit from manager Mike Shildt and the team’s trainer that ended with Hicks leaving the game. Shildt was initially optimistic about Hicks, but an MRI revealed a tear of the elbow ligament.

A tear of the UCL usually means Tommy John surgery for a pitcher. However, it’s become customary to seek a second opinion before going under the knife. If Hicks ends up having the surgery, he’ll miss the rest of 2019 and likely sit out most of next season as well. Some pitchers have used alternative treatments in hopes of avoiding surgery. But the rehab following such treatments would still keep Hicks sidelined for a significant period of time.

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Hicks made the opening day roster last season at age 21. With a fastball that regularly hits triple digits, he quickly became one of the more reliable pitchers in the St. Louis bullpen. He finished his rookie season with six saves and a 3.59 ERA.

This year, Hicks picked up where he left off, filling the vacancy the Cardinals had in the closer’s role. After blowing the first week of the season, Hicks has converted his last 14 save opportunities. Despite a couple of hiccups in May, Hicks owns a 3.14 ERA and a WHIP of 0.94. Unfortunately, it appears those numbers will end up being his final numbers for the 2019 campaign.

In all likelihood, the Cardinals will have to find a way to move on without Hicks at the back end of their bullpen. On the bright side, the likes of John Gant, Giovanny Gallegos, and John Brebbia have all had solid seasons pitching in relief. However, none are experienced in the closer’s role or throws 100 mph heat like Hicks.

The Cardinals, of course, have Andrew Miller, who has plenty of closing experience. Unfortunately, the veteran lefty is not the same pitcher he was a few years ago, pitching to a solid but unspectacular ERA of 4.15. Carlos Martinez has pitched well since his move to the bullpen. But he also has limtied experience as a closer. In short, the injury to Hicks may put the Cardinals in the market for a closer this trade season.

At the moment, the Cardinals own the second Wild Card spot and are just two games off the pace in the NL Central. However, they’ll likely be fighting the Cubs and Brewers all season to get to the top of the division. On the surface, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll win the NL Central without a bonafide closer on their roster, making the injury to Hicks a huge blow to their playoff chances.

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