The St. Louis Cardinals suffered a big blow when Jordan Hicks tore his UCL, but Giovanny Gallegos’ breakout season will help them weather the loss. Hicks had been the Red Birds’ closer this year, but he underwent Tommy John surgery Wednesday morning. Gallegos won’t be sliding into the closer position—that role will be taken up by Carlos Martínez according to Derrick Gould—but Gallegos will further help shoulder the weight of the high leverage innings in Hicks’ absence.
Gallegos, who will turn 28 in August, has put up monster strikeout numbers in the minors—he struck out 69 batters in 43 1/3 innings at Triple-A Scranton in 2017—but his success hasn’t fully translated to the majors until now. In his 31 2/3 innings of big-league experience prior to 2019, he struck out slightly more than a batter per inning, which is good but not elite.
Depending on who you ask, Gallegos was supposed to be the lesser piece coming back in the Luke Voit trade. Chasen Shreve was the headliner, but Shreve was designated for assignment near the end of spring training and no one picked him up. That might have been more of a reflection of every other team’s roster crunch than an indictment of his potential, but Shreve has been stuck in Memphis since.
Meanwhile, Gallegos has arguably been the best pitcher in the St. Louis bullpen this year. He leads the staff in DRA at 2.62, and he’s struck out 49 batters in 34 2/3 innings. His 37.7 percent strikeout rate ranks eighth in baseball behind Gerrit Cole. The strikeouts have also come with impeccable command as he’s only issued six free passes. Coming into Tuesday, Gallegos had made 12 straight appearances without allowing a run. The last time he allowed a runner to cross home was over a month ago on May 24 against Atlanta.
Gallegos primarily relies on a fastball and a slider while rarely mixing in a changeup. The fastball sits around 94, and he throws it with 87th percentile spin which allows him to keep it at the letters.
His real weapon is the slider, which is more of a slurve. The downward movement allows it to be effective to both lefties and righties, and he throws it more than 40 percent of the time whether he has the platoon advantage or not. His slider has induced a 25.3 percent strikeout rate as he’s gotten hitters to chase it out of the zone roughly half the time.
He may effectively be a two-pitch pitcher, but those two pitches create a lethal combination. The slider tunnels well off the fastball which helps him induce chases.
It works the other way as well. He can start an at-bat with back-to-back sliders and change sight lines with the fastball.
Gallegos has been terrific so far. If there’s a pitcher who can take the sting out of losing Hicks, it’s him.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.