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Hochman: Enough is enough. Replace Alex Reyes as the St. Louis Cardinals’ closer
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Hochman: Enough is enough. Replace Alex Reyes as the St. Louis Cardinals’ closer

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St. Louis Cardinals V Detroit Tigers

St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Alex Reyes (29) reacts to a RBI single hit by Detroit Tigers Willi Castro (9) in the ninth inning of a baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

No more of this.

The Cardinals must replace Alex Reyes in the closer’s role.

This latest appearance was the tipping point. Reyes had improved his walk rate since the August 5 meltdown, but he still blew some games. And then came Sunday’s denouement. Up 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth — and three outs from winning the series in Pittsburgh, 3-1 — Reyes walked two batters and allowed a walk-off homer.

It’s easy to name who should be a new closer — I’d go with Giovanny Gallegos — but it’s harder to name the corresponding move or moves — as in, who should then take Gallegos’ important role as the eighth-inning man? Or, if you move Genesis Cabrera to the eighth, then who takes the seventh? Strengthening one role, or filling a hole, takes away from another role. Luis Garcia and T.J. McFarland have pitched strong stints for St. Louis — though both guys are “splitsy” — so perhaps they’ll get higher-leverage innings.

But the Cards have to make the main move and remove Reyes from the closer spot. Enough is enough. Eight is enough — since the All-Star Game, Reyes has had eight unsteady appearances, capped off with Sunday’s disaster.

“You obviously feel for him,” Shildt said after the 4-3 loss, which occurred on Reyes’ 27th birthday. “We’ll move on and figure out the best way to go about using him. … I’ll have conversation with him, we got to look at (the closer role). He’s done a good job. We’ve got some candidates back there to be able to do it. You always have to look to make adjustments, we do it all the time. Thankfully we haven’t had to do it a lot with our bullpen. We’ve had some issues on some days, but it’s been more recently.

“So I get the frustration of it, but candidly, (our bullpen) and our defense have been the two strongest parts of our club. Without these two parts of our club, we’re not in the position we’re at, which is a really good spot to make a run at this wild card.”

Just 13 days ago, they still felt they could make a run at this division.

The Cards had won all six games on a road trip and returned home for three against first-place Milwaukee. Even though the Cards were 10 games out of first, they had 13 games head-to-head against the Brewers on the schedule. Shutout in the first game, Shildt’s club entered the next night’s ninth leading 3-2. Reyes blew the save and then blew the game, picking up the loss in the 10th. Worst loss of the year.

Since then, the Cards have gone a maddening 5-5. And it might’ve been 4-6 if Lars Nootbaar didn’t save a Reyes save with a leaping catch in a home win.

OK, so moving Reyes out of the closer spot leads to a couple key questions. What’s next for Reyes? And how did this happen to Reyes in the first place?

Sometimes a team might stash a struggling pitcher on the injured list to rest and restart himself, but the Cardinals are fighting the calendar here. There are only 33 games left. While Reyes is one of the reasons they’ve sputtered out, they need Reyes to help them in the wild card race. He’s still Alex Reyes, possessor of elite pitches. He just needs another role. Get him some low-leverage innings. Get him confident. It was this very same season — technically just last month — that Reyes pitched in the All-Star Game.

Which leads to that second question — how did this happen? How does a guy go from the midsummer classic to a midsummer day’s nightmare? The walks were a huge part of it — even with the sparkling save mark, he was still walking guys at a ridiculous rate. Then, after walking four against Atlanta on August 5, he didn’t walk anyone until Sunday, but his pitches in the strike zone were getting struck. He’s now pitched 58 1/3 innings this year. He has the results of someone who’s tired.

Asked of such Sunday, Shildt said: “As far as your question about being tired, I don’t think so. Recovery is good and stuff is crisp. The only thing I’d say is — his inability to repeat his quality of pitches. But he hasn’t really done that all year necessarily. The velocity is good. There are no outliers or anything that we’re looking at from a measurable standpoint that suggests that that he’s losing steam.”

The irony of all this is — Reyes is struggling in the one-inning role, but could and should be a starter next season. Might sound ridiculous to someone casually following the team, but because Reyes has so many plus pitches, they could play out better during the longer course of a start — giving hitters different looks, setting them up, things like that.

When this season started, some in the front office mentioned that they’d hope to get Reyes 100 innings in 2021.

“But I don’t think we’re married to that,” Shildt said, “or feel we’re forced to get it to that number. We know we need to get to a certain number. Next year, we also want to make sure that we’re not doing too much after (Reyes) having missed three years and only getting 19 1/3 innings last year. So it’s a delicate balance of doing all those things and getting him innings and then, oh by the way, competing. …

“I got in this business for people and to help grow them and love them and get the best out of them. I’ve got a couple different responsibilities now as part of that. But I’m a believer in people — so I hate to see our guys hurt, I hate to see Alex hurt. He’s a tough guy, he’ll come back, he’ll figure it out. There have been bumps in the road for everybody on our ballclub — his bumps just happen to be more visible because they are more magnified.”

Benjamin Hochman

@hochman on Twitter

bhochman@post-dispatch.com

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