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With sights set on majors return, Cardinals reliever Genesis Cabrera improving in minors

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Braves 11, Cardinals 4

St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Genesis Cabrera throws on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in the ninth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

The time spent with Class AAA Memphis since getting optioned on Aug. 27 has been longer than expected for left-handed reliever Genesis Cabrera.

“They told me this would last 15 days,” Cabrera said in Spanish during an interview in Memphis, Tennessee on Friday — his 27th day since returning to the minors.

Despite the wait on a potential return to the Cardinals bullpen in time for the playoffs, Cabrera's mindset is clear.

“15 days have passed, but we keep the same goal to keep working. When they feel like they need me, I’ll be ready,” he said.

Tuesday marked 31 days since the 25-year-old Cabrera returned to the minors following some struggles in the Cardinals bullpen. The left-hander came into the year as a staple of the Cardinals bullpen the past three seasons and showed much of the same to begin 2022.

Cabrera finished the first three months of the season with a 2.16 ERA across 33 1/3 innings and limited hitters to a .177 batting average. But a 12-game stretch during which he posted an 11.91 ERA in 11 1/3 innings resulted in his return to the minors for the first time since 2019.

“We’re here doing all that we can like always,” Cabrera said of his return to the minors. “I’m focused on just trying to do a good job and more than anything, to help the big-league team when they need me.”

Cabrera’s first appearance with Memphis came on Aug. 30. He walked two batters, threw a wild pitch, and surrendered a three-run homer in an inning of work. He bounced back from that relief appearance by throwing four scoreless innings across his next two outings, then ran into trouble again by allowing three runs and five hits on Sept. 11.

After some mixed results, Cabrera’s five most recent appearances have shown more consistency and the return of life on his fastball.

Coming into Tuesday, Cabrera strung together 5 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed just one hit, no walks, and struck out 11 batters in that span. That stretch included two successful save opportunities — one of which came on Saturday when he clocked 98 mph on his fastball and ended the game with a swinging strikeout on an 0-2 slider.

“He's been really good. We've been working on back spinning the ball and his fastball has ticked up,” Memphis manager Ben Johnson said during an interview in Memphis, Tennessee. “He's spinning his breaking ball really well right now — trying to see more strikes and more swing and miss out of that pitch, and also locating his changeup to right-hand hitters.”

Rediscovering life and effectiveness on Cabrera’s fastball was emphasized by Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol after the lefty was tagged for five runs against the Braves on Aug. 24 — Cabrera’s last big-league outing before his option.

Against Atlanta, Cabrera’s fastball was down 1.2 mph from what it has averaged this season, and hitters had an average 101.4 mph exit velocity when making contact on it.

Part of Cabrera’s process to regain his fastball life has been with getting his body right. Cabrera said he was hampered by a leg injury that limited his abilities on the mound.

Now, there are no limitations.

“I feel good because I’m returning to being the pitcher that I am,” he said. “I couldn’t do the things that I wanted to do, but thank God we’re fine now.”

Following Tuesday, only one game remains for Memphis’ season leaving Cabrera’s opportunities to impress in the minors limited. With the playoffs nearing and the Cardinals looking at the possibilities for their October bullpen, timing could be everything.

“He's been a professional with his work ethic, his catch play, and you know, I'm pulling through for Genesis,” Johnson said. “He and I have a history here, you know. He was here in '19 with us and, you know, he's a young kid with a lot of talent who can help our major league club when he's right.

"I think he's getting right where he needs to be. He's getting what he needs, and I feel he's going to be right just in time.”

Daniel Guerrero

@TheDanielGuerrero on Twitter

dguerrerro@post-dispatch.com

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