New Pitch Revitalizes Connor Thomas’ Career With Cardinals

The advice that launched a fall star came during spring.

Lefthander Connor Thomas was chatting with Mike Maddux during spring training when the veteran pitching coach suggested he learn a cutter.

Thomas tinkered around with the pitch but did not try one in a game until the Arizona Fall League, when a blend of experimentation and desperation led the 24-year-old to the new pitch.

It changed the movement of his career.

In the span of 25.2 innings in the AFL, Thomas went from a depth lefty toting a 5.47 ERA to earning a spot on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster. St. Louis made the move to avoid losing Thomas in the Rule 5 draft. Suddenly, after six AFL appearances yielded a 1.75 ERA, that was a possibility.

Thomas struck out 34 of 105 batters he faced, and he won the AFL’s pitcher of the year honor. Credit the cutter.

A 2019 fifth-rounder out of Georgia Tech, Thomas reached Triple-A for 22 appearances in 2021. He spent the entire 2022 season in the Redbirds’ rotation, making 25 starts. Many were bruising. He allowed 172 hits in 135 innings. Righthanded batters hit .328.

He needed a counterpunch.

He needed that cutter.

Jason Isringhausen, the Cardinals’ all-time saves leader and a minor league roving coach, helped Thomas find a grip on a cutter midway through the season—and a mindset for using it.

Thomas had a snappy four-seamer and an above-average sinker that made him a groundball pitcher. If he threw the cutter with the same conviction, he would have a fastball variation to work to his glove side.

When he uncorked the pitch in Arizona, Thomas noticed it got what the sinker did not—swings and misses. And a lot of them. In one outing, he struck out 10 batters in four innings on 76 pitches. He struck out more than 25% of the righthanded batters he faced. The cutter had the hitters’ attention.

Now it has the Cardinals.



— Among the trickle-up changes to the Cardinals’ coaching staff prompted by the departure of hitting coach Jeff Albert was the promotion of Brandon Allen. Triple-A Memphis’ hitting coach in 2022, Allen will serve as assistant hitting coach to Turner Ward in St. Louis. Allen, 37, was a fifth-round pick by the White Sox in 2004 who reached Triple-A in his career. He earned plaudits within the organization for tutoring young hitters in the early stages of a major league approach and synthesizing advanced data while listening and relating to that in-game pressure.

— For 2023, Low-A Palm Beach will continue its “nobody nights” by not selling tickets to home games on Tuesdays and Sundays at Roger Dean Stadium. The cost-cutting move, tracing back to coronavirus restrictions, will leave the bookend games of every home series for media, scouts and family members.

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