NEWS

How Jordan Hicks looked in his first bullpen of spring

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For the fourth time in his life, Jordan Hicks arrived at spring training as a starting pitcher. For the first time, he hopes it stays that way.

“My whole life, this has been my dream,” Hicks said Friday, following his highest-intensity bullpen session of the young camp. “I’m fully embracing this.”

The 27-year-old right-hander holds the record for the fastest pitch ever recorded in MLB — 105 mph — but the numbers he values most now reside in the box score, not the radar gun. Since signing a four-year, $44 million free-agent contract this offseason, all that matters to Hicks are earned runs and innings pitched.

If the latter is large and the former reasonably low, Hicks doesn’t mind a drop in velocity. He could shed a couple ticks and still comfortably clock triple digits. It’s a tradeoff he’s willing to make, if it allows him to be an effective member of a starting rotation for the first time in his major-league career.

“It’s relative pacing for him. So maybe down from 105 to 99 or 100 or something like that,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But I think he’s pretty aware too that he’s got a really good sinker and if he’s going to stay out there for a while, being economical with his pitches is going to be important.”

Throwing about 40 pitches and going two ups Friday, the next step for Hicks will be to face live hitters once they arrive Monday for the first full-squad workout of camp. He used the entirety of his arsenal — a four-seamer and two versions of a sinker, as well as a split-finger, a slider and a sweeper — reaching 96 mph.

Hicks has been working at the team’s facility since he signed in January, but this was the first time he threw to Patrick Bailey, who provided a quick and concise scouting report.

“Friggin’ hard,” Bailey said. And it’s only going to climb from there.

“When the hitter gets in the box, it’s like an instant 2 or 3 mph jump,” Hicks said, “so I want to make sure I’m hitting at least 95-96 before I start ripping off 97, 98, 99.”

The build-up isn’t foreign to Hicks, who was a starting pitcher throughout high school and his first two years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, until the team decided to fast-track his path to the majors by converting him into a reliever. It is something new, though, for a pitcher who’s never thrown more than 105 innings in a season (seven years ago, in A-ball).

Melvin likened the transition to the one he witnessed Seth Lugo make with the Padres last year.

Lugo didn’t let the thought of going back to the bullpen to cross his mind, and he finished the season 8-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 26 starts before joining the Kansas City Royals’ rotation this offseason on a three-year deal.

Likewise, Hicks has no plans of this being anything but permanent. What that means when Robbie Ray and Alex Cobb assume their spots in the rotation around midseason remains to be seen.

“The relief (role) is all in the back of my mind,” Hicks said, noting the Giants weren’t the only team to offer him an opportunity to start. “My body feels good. My arms progressing really well. I’m treating it like a normal starter buildup. … I don’t think it’s as much about innings as feeling good at a pitch count and then progressing from there. It’s gonna be a lot of feedback, a lot of talking between training room staff, coaches and me.”

How Hicks holds up to a full season of starts — or even beyond the fifth inning — is mostly a mystery. He often cites the final two starts he made for the Cardinals’ Single-A affiliate — pitching into the eighth inning both times while maintaining his velocity in the upper-90s — as proof of his potential.

But, like his career-high in innings, that was seven years ago, in 2017.

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