Daniel Poncedeleon Makes 'Magical' Debut
By the time he threw the final pitch of his first major league game, righthander Daniel Poncedeleon had done what no Cardinal had in at least 100 years from a mound.
A year earlier, Poncedeleon wasn’t sure if he would ever stand on one again.
The 26-year-old Poncedeleon pitched seven no-hit innings in his debut—the longest no-hit start for a Cardinals rookie in more than a century—and punctuated a comeback from a life-threatening injury.
In May 2017, during a start for Triple-A Memphis, a line drive struck Poncedeleon near his temple and fractured his skull. Emergency surgery was necessary to address the swelling of his brain, and weeks in the hospital followed. So did resolve.
"To be so dogmatic with his mindset that (he’s) going to pitch again, and going to pitch in the big leagues,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "It’s impressive.”
Before the fateful line drive, Poncedeleon was nearing a callup to St. Louis. The organization had already measured him for a relief role, and that's where he settled this summer after the Cardinals made over their bullpen at the trade deadline.
Poncedeleon is part of a younger, newer, Memphis-infused pitching corps. In fact, the entire Redbirds rotation on Opening Day is currently in the big leagues, with Dakota Hudson and Poncedeleon in the bullpen and Jack Flaherty, John Gant and Austin Gomber in the rotation.
In 18 games (17 starts) in the Pacific Coast League, Poncedeleon went 9-3, 2.15 with 103 strikeouts and 48 walks in 92 innings. He eased into a long-relief job in the majors that included finishing games. Through 16.2 innings he had nine strikeouts and a .148 opponent average.
Poncedeleon, a 2014 ninth-rounder out of Division II Embry-Riddle (Fla.), has pitched at 93-94 mph for St. Louis, but at Triple-A he improved his feel for a curveball and sharpened a cut fastball. Those two pitches, and an ability to elevate his fastball, got him to the majors, and the cutter helped him through seven innings without allowing a hit in his big league debut.
His teammates called that evening "magical.”
Poncedeleon had other words for it: It’s a start.
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** The Cardinals promoted 2018 first-rounder Nolan Gorman from Rookie-level Johnson City to low Class A Peoria on Aug. 8. The 19th overall pick out of high school became the first player his age (18) and this new to the organization in generations to be promoted to low Class A in his first pro summer. Gorman, a third baseman, hit .345/.440/.662 with 11 home runs in 37 games in the Appalachian League.
** A year after he was sidelined by a hand injury, 19-year-old and 2016 first-rounder Delvin Perez had found his footing. In 45 games at short-season State College, he hit .215/.315/.256 with 24 walks, and he showed improvement in the field. The wiry, lithe Puerto Rican shortstop has been working to add muscle to his frame while sticking to a more consistent approach at the plate.