Rarely does one pitch seem to so dramatically alter the outcome of a game as did the 1-2 offering Luke Weaver threw J.D. Martinez in the fourth inning Thursday night at Busch Stadium.
In his first start in the big leagues since last September, Weaver had aptly asserted his command of the game through the first three innings. He ran into trouble in the fourth, loading the bases with nobody out. A 95-mph heater caught too much of the heart of the plate, and Martinez managed to keep the opposite field home run left of the foul poll to change the complexion of the game.
A different result on that pitch leads to perhaps a different result for the game.
Yet Mike Matheny contended after the 4-0 Cardinals loss that the grand slam pitch wasn’t the only one on the night for which Weaver would have liked a mulligan. The manager stressed that some previous pitches in the fourth–the ones that contributed to two walks that loaded the bases in the first place–were equally damaging.
“I explained to him something that’s just going to take a little time,” Matheny said.
He was referring to the distinction between the effectiveness of pitches that may consistently have produced outs in the minors, but that major league hitters possess the discipline to lay off. Paul Goldschmidt did just that on a 3-2 breaking pitch, which set the table for Martinez’s grand slam.
“It’s a different level,” Matheny said. “That ran him into a ball four, and then he’s got to challenge a guy. Yeah, at that point he probably left that ball too much of the plate, up in the zone, and a strong hitter.
“It’s just going to take him a little bit of those hard lessons. The answer is to attack in a good part of the zone, and you might not get those chases that you may get somewhere else. Overall he did a great job. His stuff looks sharp. Just one inning got him.”
It’s a continuation of a whirlwind lesson for Weaver on the disparity in competition from the minors to the bigs. He endured his first crash course last year, arriving in August after a rapid ascent through the Cardinals system. After his latest learning experience Thursday, Weaver seemed to have a good handle on the origins of his shortcomings from the outing.
“I thought that pitch to Goldschmidt was a pretty good thrown ball,” Weaver said. “He did a good job, that’s a big league take. That just puts more pressure on me, and in a moment like that, I’ve just got to execute a little better.”
Carson Kelly served as Weaver’s battery-mate Thursday, the duo’s familiarity with one another high from their time in Memphis this season. Kelly made the same note as his pitcher and manager: this level is a different animal.
“This is the big leagues,” Kelly said. “Everybody is that much better, they’re that much smarter. He made great pitches. It was just that one pitch that J.D. put a good swing on–and that was the game.”
Weaver’s 5.70 ERA in 36.1 innings last season may have indicated his path to St. Louis accelerated too quickly; in several starts, it seemed as though command and confidence waned as he approached the middle innings.
As it appears in the box score, Weaver’s first sample from 2017 might yield a similar conclusion. He got through five innings, but allowed his four runs in the fourth–and it tanked the game (though the Cardinals offense didn’t even pretend they were going to score Thursday, but that’s another matter). It’s hard to isolate the one mistake to simultaneously recognize the positive steps he took through the rest of his performance just by glancing at his stat line.
A more complete story is found in the words he speaks. In Luke Weaver, there’s optimism to draw from the way he diagnoses the cause for his turbulence, and expresses the confidence to correct it in the future.
“If that situation comes around again, I’m going to win that one,” Weaver said. “Because I know what happened when I didn’t execute, so I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Thanks to one bad pitch–and the few others that led to it–Thursday wasn’t Weaver’s night. His ability to understand why will contribute toward ensuring that the next one is.