St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley throws against the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 15 in Cincinnati. Helsley was disappointed by his first exposure to the Atlanta Braves’ fans use of the Tomahawk Chop for their chants during a playoff game on Oct. 3. Helsley’s vantage point is different than most players who visit SunTrust Park. He is a Cherokee Nation citizen. GARY LANDERS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
JUPITER, Fla. -- As the Cardinals begin to answer questions about their rotation and their bullpen, there are quite a few pitchers who they know can be effective in a starter’s role and a reliever’s role. Cherokee Nation citizen Ryan Helsley is creeping up to the top of that list.
In the Cardinals’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Monday at Roger Dean Stadium, the right-handed fireballer pitched two perfect innings.
Helsley threw 22 pitches, 12 of them strikes, and even had a solid fielding play when a comebacker deflected off his glove before he made the throw to first base.
Helsley will get a few chances to start games this spring. With Miles Mikolas (right flexor tendon strain) out until possibly mid-April, the Cards could look to a long reliever as a short-term fix for the open rotation spot. And Helsley, who had a 2.95 ERA in 24 games (36 2/3 innings) last season, has emerged as a candidate for the rotation, a multiple-inning relief role or to serve as the closer.
“Valuable guy,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “A guy that’s historically been able to hold his velocity in a Minor League setting as he goes deeper into games. But clearly he is able to have high velocity with plus secondary pitches in the short outings as well. That’s really what we’re looking for in the modern game. The guys that can have versatility to compete and get outs.”
Helsley worked this offseason to reintroduce his curveball to his mix of pitches, and he threw five on Monday. It was a pitch that he threw as a starter in the Minors, but he focused more on his fastball and his cutter during his relief outings last year. He can also hit 100 mph with his fastball, making him perhaps the hardest active Cards pitcher right now with Jordan Hicks recovering from Tommy John surgery. That velocity is what makes him intriguing as a closer, but his mix of pitches and ability to sustain his velocity makes him intriguing as a starter.
“I think having that curveball, if I’m going to start -- even out of the bullpen -- if I can get a feel for it and keep a feel for it throughout the season, I think it’ll be huge for me,” Helsley said.
Helsley is competing with a number of guys for a role in either the rotation or the bullpen this year. But his versatility will help him land a role with St. Louis -- and if he’s pitching for the Cardinals, he doesn’t mind what that role is.
“Who knows, you know?” he said. “We got a lot of guys who are fighting for those two rotation spots and those few spots in the bullpen too. Spring’s really exciting right now. Lot of competition going on.”
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