Sinker, slider, strikeout: Cardinals’ rookie Jordan Hicks adjusts to life in majors and in bullpen

ST. LOUIS — On May 20, Jordan Hicks threw a baseball 105 mph.

He did that twice, actually. One of those pitches was a ball, with movement so wicked that catcher Francisco Pena had little chance of catching the rapidly moving sinker. The other one was fouled off by Odubel Herrera, making it the fastest strike in recorded baseball history.

We’ll come back to that. In the hours and days after the 21-year-old Hicks wowed baseball with that overwhelming display of radar love, a bit of criticism sprung up. Hicks walked too many hitters. He wasn’t striking out many. He was, essentially, a one-pitch guy.

I mean, you saw today, Hicks said. I didn’t go out there and try to overthrow or anything. I just tried to throw strikes and command the zone. I knew that’s what people were going to think if I tried to go out there and do it again. I’m just gonna go throw strikes.

Hicks isn’t just making the transition from the minors to the majors. The Cardinals have moved him to the bullpen for now, and control of that slider proved elusive in the new role.

Normally I’m a starter and I have more reps to kind of find it early in a season, but now it’s one inning at a time trying to find it, trying to find it in long-toss, but now I finally feel that spin, and I feel a lot more comfortable with it, Hicks said. I was comfortable throwing it before, but it wasn’t for strikes. But now I feel really good about it.

That’s obvious.

It was quite a display for a player who had just two home runs prior to this run. Both came against the White Sox in 2017, including a drive against Shields (2-9) at Guaranteed Rate Field in his first major league game.

We all know he’s got that in him, Melvin said. It’s just about getting him some consistent at-bats. When he’s swinging the bat well, he’s definitely capable of doing that.

Sean Manaea (7-6) went seven innings, allowing one run and five hits. The 26-year-old left-hander struck out seven without a walk in winning his second straight start.

Shields has dropped back-to-back outings after beating Cleveland for his first victory since opening day. The right-hander gave up eight runs — two earned — and five hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Athletics: The Athletics activated LF Matt Joyce (strained lower back) from the 10-day disabled list and optioned OF Jake Smolinski to Triple-A Nashville. Joyce started the second game after being held out of the opener. … 3B Matt Chapman (bruised right thumb) received a cortisone injection Tuesday. Manager Bob Melvin said the earliest he will be activated is Monday, when the Athletics open a four-game series at Detroit. … Melvin also expects LHP Ryan Buchter (strained left shoulder) to be activated during the Detroit series. … LHP Brett Anderson (strained left shoulder) is scheduled to throw about four innings and 60 pitches in a rehab outing for Triple-A Nashville on Saturday.

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