Luke Weaver Adds A New Wrinkle

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.--Whether it’s a tweak to a delivery or a new grip on a pitch or a new pitch entirely, nearly every pitcher at some point in his career will come to spring training looking to add something to his game.

For righthander Luke Weaver, the Cardinals’ first-round selection out of Florida State in 2014 and the No. 50 prospect on this year’s Top 100 Prospects list, that something this spring is a one-seam fastball. No, not a two-seam fastball, a one-seam fastball.

“It’s the same as a two-seam, except you throw it a little differently,” Weaver explained. “There’s guys out there who throw it, especially guys who are true sinkerball guys. It just provides less spin on the ball and you can kind of get a little more movement.”

Weaver learned the pitch from a number of sources inside the Cardinals. Seth Maness, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn, Weaver said, all throw one-seamers.

“It’s different because it’s hard because there’s no laces on that particular pitch,” Weaver said. “It’s just all feel. Some guys love it and some guys hate it.”

To throw the pitch, the pitcher straddles his index and middle fingers around one of the seams of the baseball without actually contacting the seams. He’s working now to get the movement on the pitch and will continue this year at Triple-A Memphis to work on maintaining its control.

Weaver had a two-seamer in his repertoire earlier in his career but wanted to add something different to his mix.

“It’s something I’ve been playing with and whatnot, and I think with the two-seam I was getting some armside run instead of some depth,” he said. “I figured I’d give it a shot and see how it worked today. It was just being able to get it over the plate and get it up in the zone a little bit to where it was at the knees.

“I think it’s a good pitch early in the count to try to get a quick ground ball, especially in a situation where you’ve got guys on base and you need a ground ball. It’s pitch-to-contact type of pitch.”

Weaver on Monday threw four innings against the Nationals’ Triple-A group on the backfields at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. He allowed one run on four hits and two walks while striking out four. The lone run came on a home run to Nationals catcher and No. 9 prospect Pedro Severino.

Weaver made his big league debut on Aug. 13 last year and pitched to a 1-4, 5.70 mark over nine games (eight starts) and 36.1 innings. He struck out 45 and walked just 12, but also surrendered 46 hits, including seven home runs.

To get back there, he’ll need to focus on getting ahead in the count and throwing strikes and making sure he lives at the bottom of the zone. He’s also learning the finer points of pitching, like when to change a hitter’s eye level, and how to make balls look like strikes and strikes look like balls.

If he masters those things he could be back in St. Louis in short order this season, but he knows it won’t be easy.

“Those hitters are good,” he said. “They’ve got a pretty good idea of what they’re doing up there and they know a lot about you. It’s just about executing your pitches the best you can and hoping to mess up their timing.”

Bard On the Comeback

• Toward the end of the Triple-A game, the Cardinals brought in reliever Daniel Bard, a former top prospect whose career derailed because of control problems. Now 31 years old and fully sidearm, Bard still has the hallmarks of what made him an intriguing prospect to begin with, but his demons are still there, too. He ran his fastball up to 96 mph and got ahead in counts, but still got just one out before being removed. After getting a groundout from the leadoff hitter, Bard hit two batters and walked another during his outing.

• Nationals righthanded reliever Phillips Valdez ran his fastball up to 96 mph and got swings and misses with a mid-80s changeup with plenty of late fade.