Jordan Hicks closes out the May 6, 2019 win against the Phillies with a strikeout of Rhys Hoskins. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Already expected to miss the opening weeks of the season as he continues the yearlong recovery from elbow surgery, Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks notified the team that he intends to opt out of the 2020 season.

Hicks, who has Type 1 Diabetes, has the right to opt out of the season and still receive his full salary and service time due to a pre-existing condition. His recovery from elbow surgery is also a consideration. That was part of the agreement for the shortened season between the owners and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.

In a message he shared on social media, Hicks punctuated the announcement that he would opt out with this hashtag: “#DiabeticPhenom.”

“After much though and consideration I have decided to opt out of the 2020 season,” Hicks wrote. “I’d like to thank the Cardinals and my teammates for their support in my decision. I look forward to being a part of winning a World Series in 2021 for Cardinal Nation and using my platform to create more awareness for the diabetic community.”

Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told the Post-Dispatch that conversations between Hicks, his agent and the team had been taking place for some time regarding what is best for the young closer. Monday’s news was not a surprise to the front office. The team released a statement expressing support and understanding for Hicks’ decision.

“It’s something Jordan and I spoke with each other quite a bit about,” Mozeliak said by phone Monday afternoon. “Just in terms of, what risk he felt he may or may not have. I feel like part of this, too, is just making sure we were being smart with his return to play, given his injury.

“Given where we are, where he is physically, and what he is dealing with from the preexisting medical condition, it just made the most sense to shut it down in terms of a return to play. But he still gets to rehab, train and be ready to go for next year.”

The Cardinals purposefully added at least a month to Hicks’ rehab schedule because doctors suggested they did not know how Type 1 Diabetes would blood flow to the rebuilt area and alter his recovery. Hicks said this spring that he had no delays or setbacks in the healing process, but that the added time allowed them to adjust if needed and for him to gain strength, which he wanted. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said earlier in summer camp that Hicks would not be cleared to pitch by opening day.

With less than two weeks before that first game against Pittsburgh at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals have experienced multiple key losses from their bullpen. John Brebbia, positioned to be a setup reliever for the season, had elbow surgery this past month and will miss the entire year. Giovanny Gallegos, one of the most effective rookie relievers in baseball a year ago, had a chance to open the season as a closer, but he has been unable to travel from Mexico to attend to the team’s preseason workouts.

The Cardinals have not given a precise reason for Gallegos’ absence due to the pitcher’s request. It is unclear still when he’ll be able to travel, an official said Sunday.

Mozeliak said there is not an immediate plan to add a pitcher to the Cardinals’ 60-player pool due to Hicks’ opt-out.

Hicks, 23, pitched in 29 games in 2019 before a ligament injury required reconstructive surgery. The hard-throwing righthander gave all of baseball more than three months to toss fastballs harder than he did in 2019, and no one topped his steady 102-mph sinker. Hicks had 14 saves at the time of the injury and was considered a candidate for the All-Star Game.

In 102 games for the Cardinals, he has 20 total saves and 3.47 ERA in 102 games.

This spring, Hicks explained how he was going to be cautious, even conservative, when it came to protecting himself from the coronavirus. On the day the Cardinals’ spring training facility officially closed, Hicks kept six feet of distance from himself and a reporter as they spoke, and he explained that was an example of how careful he intended to be.

Hicks has advanced in his rehab program to throwing bullpens, and on one of the team’s first days of “Summer Camp” at Busch Stadium, Hicks was able to throw an extended bullpen for the pitching coaches. He declined a request for an interview, saying that he would comment once he had a better idea of his readiness. Manager Mike Shildt said the next day that Hicks had recovered well. He added that the team was not looking for him to contribute in the first week of games, and that a mid-August return to the bullpen was possible. 

Hicks will be able to continue his rehab with the team and could find innings if the Cardinals are able to hold a camp for prospects and other minor-league players in Jupiter, Fla., later this fall. The Cardinals expect Hicks to be full strength for spring training 2021.

Royals exhibition set; Hall of Fame postponed  

The advertised exhibition game at Busch Stadium  between the Cardinals and Kansas City Royals was announced as a 3:05 p.m. start for July 22, to be televised by Fox Sports Midwest and broadcast by KMOX radio. It will be the Cardinals’ only exhibition before they start the season here on July 24 against Pittsburgh.

The Royals, managed by former Cardinals manager and catcher Mike Matheny, will stop here on their way to Cleveland for the start of their season.

While the exhibition game was being announced, the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame ceremonies slated for August were scrubbed until next Aug. 21 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bill White, Tom Herr and John Tudor — the elected former stars for this year —will be honored next year along with the 2021 Hall of Fame class.

Ben Frederickson and Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.

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