JUPITER, Fla. — Always one who took a guiding role in calling his games, even when Yadier Molina and him had what one teammate called “telepathy,” Adam Wainwright is testing a new element of PitchCom this spring to see if it even picks up the pace of his games.
Instead of the catcher wearing the PitchCom device to call pitches, Wainwright wore it Monday, affixed to the outside of his glove, near his wrist.
That allowed him to call the pitch, to set the location, rock and fire.
“As soon as I get the ball back, I’ll be pressing some buttons,” Wainwright said.
This spring, Major League Baseball is allowing pitchers to explore and experiment with calling their own games using the tech that was first introduced to in-game play this past season. The Cardinals were the last team to adopt the use of PitchCom, but when they did both Molina and Andrew Knizner used it to relay calls to the pitcher.
The device for pitch calling is attached to the catcher’s pads. The pitcher, catcher, and around two or three other fielders wear a device near their ear that relays the pitch call and location.
The purpose to short-circuit sign stealing.
The benefit, Major League Baseball has hoped, is hastening games by streamlining how pitches are called. Giving the pitcher the device to call pitches is the next step.
An official with Major League Baseball told the Post-Dispatch that several veteran pitchers requested the tech for the mound this past season, and they’ll use spring training this year to determine if it’s a fit for the regular season. Wainwright welcomed the chance to skip ahead from shaking off pitches to just calling them.
On Day 1 of the Cardinals’ full-squad workouts of spring training and during his second live batting practice session of spring training, Wainwright called most of his pitches from the mound.
He did ask the catcher, Pedro Pages, to call a few pitches just to see where the young prospect was thinking with his progression.
Wainwright told both Knizner and new catcher Willson Contreras that they can, at any point they have a read on a hitter, wave him off the call on the PitchCom and make their own call, using the device at their knee.
At one point during his two-inning, 40-pitch outing on the back fields Monday, Wainwright stopped to chat with pitching coach Dusty Blake. He wanted Blake’s opinion on whether paying attention to the pitch clock (which is broadcast on TVs at each side of the field), paying attention to the batter, and also calling the game on PitchCom was going to fracture his focus. It’s something he wants to consider as they take PitchCom into games.
Blake told Wainwright that he did not close to eclipsing the 15-second pitch clock, so that it may not be an issue.
The Cardinals have the ability to use PitchCom on one field because they have one set, and if they fanned out to using it on other fields, the pitcher on each field would get the same call. As Wainwright took a break between his innings and Ryan Helsley took the mound, the veteran was warned that if he fiddled with his PitchCom device he would be calling pitches for Helsley.
Wainwright also asked hitters if they were able to hear what pitch was coming if the pitcher called it and it was said into the catcher’s ear.
The hitters told him they could not, even with little crowd noise.
That did not, however, mean they didn’t know what was coming.
Facing reigning MVP Paul Goldschmidt during the live BP, Wainwright lapsed into a pattern of pitches as he tried to work on his changeup. He used the same pitches in the same order to Goldschmidt, starting with a sinker that ran in and then trying, on the third pitch, to land a changeup. It’s not a pitch he would throw Goldschmidt usually in that count, but he wanted to get a feel for placing the changeup on the inside part of the plate to a right-handed batter.
Goldschmidt socked it.
“You’ve thrown that same sequence three times,” Goldschmidt said to a smiling Wainwright.
“I want to prove I can get you out with it,” Wainwright replied.
— Derrick Goold
Lizard let loose in Lars’ locker
Evidently word reached the Lizard King that one of his teammates did not like little varmints scurrying through his locker, so the king did as any king might and sent one of his minions into the fray.
A lizard was found resting on the hangers in Lars Nootbaar’s locker after workouts Monday. It is the second time in a few days that Nootbaar has found a small lizard in his locker, though he is unsure if the second time was still the first lizard and he’s just calling the locker home these days.
Nootbaar has a prime suspect for who put the small gecko there.
Allegedly it’s a pitcher.
Follow the nickname.
Right-hander Miles Mikolas was nicknamed the Lizard King after eating a lizard on a dare while a minor-league player for San Diego. The nosh was caught on camera, Mikolas’ meal went viral, and the nickname even appears on his Baseball-Reference.com page. Mikolas has added other names since his return to the majors with the Cardinals such as All-Star and angler.
Tyler O’Neill in the center of things
One of the first drills of the first day of full-squad workouts was “popup priority.” That is the workout where a coach sends fly balls hurtling into the air and the players have to track it and call it. The purpose to demand communication between infielders and outfielders as they race down the fly balls in those overlapping zones on the field, and it also allows for pitchers, infielders, and catchers to work on tracking down fly balls in foul territory or the infield.
Of note during this drill, Tyler O’Neill played center field alongside Dylan Carlson.
O’Neill is headed to Team Canada for the World Baseball Classic, and he’s expected to be the center fielder for the team. He will also get some looks there for the Cardinals as they look for a variety of setups in the outfield. A two-time Gold Glove Award winner in left field, O’Neill has limited experience in center in the majors, though the offseason program he embraced that included more running and a leaner look coming into camp adds to his speed out in center.
During the same drill, Nootbaar handled right field.
McGreevy mows down big-league bats
Eager to impress as a non-roster invitee to big-league spring training for the first time in his career, Michael McGreevy’s assignment on Monday included facing a group of Cardinals that included National League Rookie of the Year finalist Brendan Donovan, Andrew Knizner, Juan Yepez, and Nolan Gorman in a session of live batting practice on the backfields of the club’s Jupiter complex.
With spectators that included Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch, assistant general manager Moises Rodriguez, and director of scouting Randy Flores, the former first-round pick silenced some of the big league bats in their encounters.
He struck out Yepez swinging. He got Donovan looking after falling behind 2-0 in the count. He induced a broken bat ground out to third base against Knizner. The 22-year-old ended the live batting practice session by flinging high fastballs by Gorman for a swinging strikeout that created some visible frustration for the second baseman.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Knizner said of McGreevy. “It looks good. Throwing strikes. King of a deceptive delivery. I’ll be able to tell you more if I could catch him so I have a better idea of how his ball’s moving.”
As McGreevy attacked the strike zone, the group of hitters chatted with each other. They shared tips on what the right-hander was giving them. There was chatter about how effective his slider looked. Yepez added that the sinker was just as effective.
But what presented just as much of a challenge as McGreevy’s arsenal that included a fastball that reached up to 95.7 mph on Monday was his pace.
“He gets the ball. Pitches fast. He doesn’t give you too much time to think,” Yepez said in Spanish.
Already a fast worker on the mound coming out of UC Santa Barbara, adapting to the pitch clock that will debut in the majors this year was something McGreevy previously noted wasn’t too challenging for him in 2022.
The 22-year-old pitched for Class AA Springfield and High-A Peoria this past season. In his first full season of minor league baseball, McGreevy went 9-5 with a 3.99 ERA across 144 1/3 innings. He struck out 117 and walked 30 in his 28 starts. The San Clemente, California native’s 5.1% walk rate tied him with teammate Gordon Graceffo for the lowest among all MiLB pitchers who completed 130 or more innings. — Daniel Guerrero
On the clock
The Cardinals have had clocks on the fields during their live batting practice sessions on Monday, but that practice started before the first full-squad workout.
However, they’re not stopping play or making a show of assessing violations as they prepare for the implementation of Major League Baseball’s new pace of play rules.
However, they have been keeping track of when a pitcher commits a violation during a live batting practice session against hitters.
“The clocks are there for them to start to familiarize themselves with,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “Then when they come off the mound, it’s like, ‘Hey, there was a couple times.’ But Day One of them getting off the mound in lives, we’re not penalizing them or stopping the drill for the sake of clock violation as much as we are, ‘Hey, here’s where you’re at. You’re in a good spot. There were a couple times, and here’s when it happened.’”
Beginning with this spring’s exhibition games, pitchers will be required to begin their pitching motion 15 seconds after they’ve received the ball if the bases are empty. They’ll be required to begin their motion 20 seconds after having received the ball with a runner or runners on base.
If a pitcher fails to begin his delivery in the allotted time, umpires will be instructed to call an automatic ball.
The new rules also restrict pitchers to two pickoff or step-offs per plate appearance with a runner on base. If the pitcher steps off or attempts a pick-off for a third time during a plate appearance without picking off the runner, they’ll be called for a balk and the runner will advance.
“At the end of the day, the team that gets the least frustrated with some of these is the one that has an advantage,” Marmol said “At some point, someone is going to get called in a situation where it’s meaningful and it’s going to be frustrating, but our ability to be able to move on is no different than if it’s a call that you didn’t like.”
— Lynn Worthy
Yepez looking to claim a spot
When asked about Juan Yepez having been put on the daily schedule to do defensive drills with infielders, Marmol said nothing should be read into that. Marmol said Yepez would spend time working in the outfield as well as at first base.
When the Cardinals did their first group drill working on fly ball communication, Yepez was in left field with Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson taking turns in center field and Lars Nootbaar in right field.
“Obviously, (Paul Goldschmidt) is going to the WBC,” Marmol said. “He may get a little bit extra time at first.”
A Venezuela native who made his MLB debut last May, Yepez appeared in 76 games for the Cardinals in 2022. He batted .253 with a .296 on-base percentage and a .447 slugging percentage. He smashed 12 home runs and 13 doubles, and he also registered 30 RBIs.
He had two postseason hits, including a pinch-hit two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning of the Game 1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Wild Card Series at Busch Stadium in October.
Last season in just 50 games for Triple-A Memphis, Yepez smacked 16 home runs and slashed .277/.341/.580 with 53 RBIs.
He’ll be hoping to earn a spot on the Cardinals roster coming out of camp this season.
“He’s shown well to this point,” Marmol said. “He knows what’s at stake. There’s a position open for him and he wants it. So he came ready. He’s in shape. His swing looks good. He has worked on his defense quite a bit. And we’re excited about it.”
Leahy provides insight for big leaguers
When it’s come to adapting to the new rules like the pitch clock and pick-off limitations that will debut in MLB this season, the Cardinals have looked to their minor leagues for some insight. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said the major and minor league coaching staffs have had conversations about how to work within the new rules.
Those conversations expanded from coaches to players to include pitchers who were sent down to the minors in 2022 like Dakota Hudson and Genesis Cabrera. They also included some minor league voices like that of right-hander Kyle Leahy.
Leahy — a non-roster invite to big-league camp who spent the majority of 2022 with Class AA before appearing in Class AAA and eventually the Arizona Fall League — spoke with coaches in a private meeting to talk about how he’s handled controlling the run game since the pitch clock has been implemented in the minors. Then, after meeting with coaches, came his opportunity to share his insight in front of the rest of the players in camp.
“It is what it is,” Leahy said of getting to speak in front of everyone. “It makes me feel like I’m welcomed, that my opinions are valued. I’m just trying to provide value to this team. It’s pretty nice to feel that I can do that on day one of spring training.” — Guerrero
Mozeliak gets good view of NRIs
After the Cardinals emerged from their clubhouse and scattered across their complex’s backfields for Monday’s first-full day of workouts, John Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations found a spot on a bench near field No. 5, which was filled with non-roster invitees. Mozeliak took in most of the early portion of Monday’s practice at that field watching the infield drills and batting practice groups cycle through.
The group working on field No. 5 had the likes of Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Moises Gomez, and Jeremy Rivas participating in defensive drills. — Guerrero
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