Road to majors is never smooth, even for the Cardinals’ minor le - KMOV.com

Road to majors is never smooth, even for the Cardinals’ minor league co-pitcher of the year

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JUPITER – Four years ago this spring, Austin Gomber was pitching for his high school team in Winter Garden, Fla. Monday, he threw an inning in a spring training game for the St. Louis Cardinals. His career is on an impressive trajectory, but the road to the major leagues is never smooth and never straight.

Gomber’s minor league career thus far has been devoid of failure. He finished last season with a 15-3 record and a 2.67 ERA for the Peoria Chiefs, which won its first play-off series in 13 years, sweeping the Kane County Cougars in a best-of-three postseason series. Gomber threw six solid innings in the deciding game and his performance through the season earned him Midwest League all-star recognition.

He was also named co-pitcher of the year in the Cardinal minor league organization, along with the heralded Alex Reyes.

Counting the short season following his draft, Gomber is 17-5 with 176 strikeouts in 182 innings and just 52 walks for a WHIP of 1.12. He has succeeded beyond expectations, just like he nearly always has in his career, earning him an invitation to the Cards’ major league camp. It is here he has experienced the first bitter taste of failure.

He threw one inning against the Minnesota Twins in the Cards 5-3 loss Monday and not unexpectedly for a young pitcher, surrendered three hits and a run. His ERA this spring is over 16, a figure exaggerated by limited use. This spring is the first time he has faced major league hitters and his inability to demonstrate his skill to the veterans he grew up admiring is evident. But those in the game know he is learning the lesson that all those who aspire to achieve the final glory have to learn: how to handle failure.

Gomber had a lot to become accustomed to when the Cards selected him in the 4th round in the 2014 draft out of Florida Atlantic University, the first being cold weather.

“I’m from Winter Garden, Fla. When I pitched in Peoria, it was like, in the 30s. That was a major adjustment. If it gets down in the 50s in Winter Garden, that’s cold. So that was the first time in my life I had to throw in cold weather. That took a little getting used to.”

This year, Gomber, who was invited to the big league camp, has been working on developing a curve ball, a pitch he threw in high school but set aside for the slider while he was in college. “I’m a big guy (6-5, 205) and it takes awhile to get everything in synch. Plus, I have to get confidence in the new pitch. Here, I’ve struggled but I know it’s a learning period.”

Gomber says failure is new to him. “The guys here, like Jaime (Garcia), Waino, Wacha, they’re all helping me with the mental aspect of the game, like dealing with failure. At this level, it’s going to happen. There will be days when you’re just not good. You have to stay positive.”

But playing alongside some of the game’s acknowledged greats inspires him to impress, making failure more bitter. “I know it’s just spring training, but I’m young and I want their first impression to be good. I just have to keep reality in sight.”

Another aspect to which he must become accustomed is expectations of Cardinal fans. “Every mistake is amplified at this level. Thousands of people are watching here and you don’t want to let them down. It’s great how much the fans care about this team.” But it exaggerates the pressure on a young pitcher was has the tools but not the seasoning to be great.

“I have to learn how to handle myself after a bad game. It’s just another game to those guys (Wainwright, Garcia and Wacha.)”

Every level of the minor league system brings new challenges and new techniques to master. This spring, Gomber is working not only on his curve ball, but also his timing and delivery, pick-off move, how he holds runners and how he attacks hitters.

Though he knew little more could be anticipated from a young pitcher with limited experience, failed expectations are hard to live with. And he knows the experience will ultimately make him stronger. He has also been encouraged by the reaction of his major league teammates who continue to support him. “Carp (Matt Carpenter),

Yadi and Holliday are guys I was watching (when I was a kid) and now I am sitting in the clubhouse with them. I’m impressed with how humble they are. They’re just regular guys with families. They joke around with you.

“Before you get here, you look at them as being superhuman but in reality, they’re just genuinely good guys. They have a positive mindset. These guys want you to succeed. They are trying to help the St. Louis Cardinals win. They don’t look at it like you’re trying to take their job. They want to teach you how to succeed.”

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