Over the last several years, the Cardinal farm system has been collecting elite arms. They have become a breeding ground for the 100-mph fastball. All of the names to conjure with coming up through the ranks are associated with almost overpowering heat.
Last night in Cincinnati, an intriguing 24-year-old left-handed prospect named Austin Gomber made the case for the breaking ball.
Setting the Reds up with a fastball that “only” sits around 93-94 mph, Gomber dominated Cincinnati with an array of explosive breaking pitches. Sliders that circumnavigated the strike zone before diving in at the last minute. Changes that started a foot outside and raced all the way across the strike zone. Heavy curveballs that darted toward the middle of the plate and then dropped as though they had suddenly turned to cast iron. You would have to ask the batters that faced him, but every pitch out of his hand looked like a fastball. All of his breaking pitches looked like they got on the batters very quickly.
One night after fellow rookie Daniel Poncedeleon threw seven hitless innings (ending a streak of 8 consecutive games without a quality start from the Cardinal rotation), Austin carried his no-hitter through 6.1 innings. It was a commanding performance for another very young, high-ceiling Cardinal pitching prospect.
No St Louis pitcher has thrown a no-hitter since Bud Smith threw one against San Diego back in 2001. But, in the first 101 games of 2018, the Cards have already had six different pitchers have a serious flirtation with that elusive no-hitter – and none of them are named Carlos Martinez or Alex Reyes.
On June 3, Michael Wacha threw 8 hitless inning against Pittsburgh, before allowing a leadoff single to Colin Moran in the ninth. On June 22, Jack Flaherty took his no-hitter through one out in the seventh before serving up a game-tying home run to Jesus Aguilar (the Cards 2-1 loss to Milwaukee that night was very reminiscent of the Monday night loss). On June 25, unheralded John Gant gave up his only hit early – an infield hit in the second. He finished seven innings of one-hit ball against Cleveland. It was Luke Weaver’s turn on July 5 in San Francisco. He got one out in the sixth before allowing his first hit – an infield hit off the bat of Gorkys Hernandez. He finished 8 innings of 2-hit ball. These all preceded the efforts of Poncedeleon and Gomber.
Adding to the excitement of the Cardinal future is that fact that of these pitchers, only Wacha figured to be a prominent member of the rotation. All of these other were starters in reserve – arms they could turn to if needed. Remembering that we have only seen the best of Martinez in flashes, that we have barely seen anything from Reyes, and that we haven’t yet even had a major league glimpse of AAA dynamo Dakota Hudson, the Cardinal future seems every bit as promising as we have been told.
Now if management can only resist the urge to give them all away.
Austin Will Only Get Better
While his game last night was outstanding, there was – mixed in with all the success – the reminders of the growth necessary for Austin to be a consistently dominating starter. While his stuff – including his fastball – is explosive, his command is less than magnificent. This was the issue that led to his earlier inconsistency out of the pen.
Of the 22 batters he faced, only 10 saw first pitch strikes – and only that many because he got many of the Reds to chase his breaking pitches. Of his 22 first-pitches, probably only about 7 actually ended up in the strike zone.
That being said, down strike one to Austin and his array of breaking balls is not a place you want to be. The 10 batters who saw strike one, were 0 for 9 with 1 walk and 4 strikeouts. In his rookie season, Austin has so far faced 81 batters. He has only managed to throw strike one to 42 of those – but those 42 didn’t fare too well. They have managed 4 singles, 2 doubles, 4 runs batted in, 2 walks, 12 strikeouts, 2 sacrifice hits, 1 sacrifice fly, and 3 double plays – a .162/.200/.216 batting line. The 39 batters who have seen ball one from Gomber are only hitting .241, but with a .436 on base percentage and a .483 slugging percentage.
Austin spent a good chunk of the early summer in the Cardinal bullpen, perhaps affecting his late-game endurance. As the innings mounted and his pitch count climbed toward 90, his mid-90s fastball of the first inning faded to a high-80’s fastball by about the fifth inning. When Eugenio Suarez hit the game-tying home run in the seventh, he jumped on a flat change-up that, at 83 mph, was only slightly slower than the 88.6 mph fastball he had seen the pitch before.
Having allowed runs in ten consecutive games, the Cardinal bullpen invited some jeopardy over its 4.2 inning, game-ending tightrope walk. A single and a hit-by-pitch put the first two runners on in the tenth, but the Cards wiggled out of it.
With a two-run lead in the bottom of the eleventh the Cards turned to closer Bud Norris. Bud, of course, was the victim of Monday’s two-run ninth-inning rally. Things quickly got scary again. Jose Peraza’s leadoff single meant that Norris would have to face Scooter Gennett, and Joey Votto as the tying runs. Then – after intentionally passing Suarez – he faced Adam Duvall as the winning run. Adam’s soft liner looked – for a moment – like it was going to make it over Paul DeJong’s head, but the shortstop was able to backpedal enough to haul it in, giving the Cards a hard-earned 4-2 win (box score).
Another longish streak that ended last night was Matt Carpenter’s very destructive eight-game hitting streak – a streak that included Matt’s six-game home run streak. Carpenter had hit .500 (14 for 28) during the streak with 8 home runs and 12 runs batted in. He slugged 1.500 during the streak, before his 0-for-5 last night.