Austin Gomber Reaches New Heights With Curveball

As he authored the best game he’s pitched yet, lefthander Austin Gomber could still hear the advice Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux gave him during spring training:

“Keep the curveball in the air.”

Gifted with a big sweeping or sharp biting curve, Gomber had often used the pitch out of the zone and in the dirt. It was a chase pitch for him, and because of the command he had with other pitches, it worked for him when he was ahead in the count.

Maddux wanted to Gomber to start hooking his curveball into the strike zone. See what happens, Maddux said.

A record did.

During his start at Triple-A Memphis on April 23, Gomber tied a Redbirds franchise record with 16 strikeouts. The mark had been previously set in a postseason game by Lance Lynn.

Gomber held Iowa scoreless through eight innings and mixed in six hits around those 16 strikeouts. The 24-year-old did not walk a batter, and he believes more than half of the strikeouts came on the curve. At least a dozen were set up by the curve.

Of his 112 pitches, Gomber said 50 were curveballs.

He landed 40 for strikes.

“On really high days I’ve thrown 30, maybe 35,” said Gomber, a 2014 fourth-rounder from Florida Atlantic. “. . . But I’ve never been able to throw it for a strike like I have this season. I’ve just been rolling with it.”

The Cardinals called Gomber to the majors for the first time for a few days, though they did not find a spot to use him. For most of the season, the major league team had carried one lefty in the bullpen, and they think at some point Gomber could serve in a relief role, be it long relief or firing his curve against lefthanded batters.

In the minors, hitters heard about how Gomber used his curve and as a result would ignore it. They’d let it go to ground and get back in the count. With a better feel and Maddux’s tutelage, his breaking ball now has two looks.

“Give it a chance to throw it for a strike,” Gomber said. “It’s a good pitch. and when they sent me down in spring, they said, ‘Just continue to keep the curveball in the air. It’s a good pitch. And it will get you here.’ “

>> First baseman Juan Yepez, whom the Cardinals snagged from the Braves for Matt Adams a year ago, won the organization’s player of the month award for April, and his production in the Midwest League merited a promotion to high Class A Palm Beach. He hit .415/.462/.596 at low Class A Peoria with 20 RBIs in 25 games.

>> Top prospect Alex Reyes joined Palm Beach for a rehab assignment and hit 99 mph while showing sustained velocity. The righthander missed 2017 after having Tommy John surgery and is eyeing a return to St. Louis in late May.

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