ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Luke Weaver is ready. From the moment he walked into the downtown St. Louis Hyatt bulked up and head held high, it was clear he sees himself as a guy who belongs, not a one who’s trying to join the club.
After two turns in the majors, 18 starts and 96 innings, the 26-year-old has earned his full time spot in the Cardinal rotation.
More than that, he has a presence. That last bit of confidence, the swagger that emanates from a player who knows they belong among the best in the world, has come.
“The interesting thing about being ready for the big leagues, is there’s an aura that you kind of put out there that you can’t really fake. You can’t really describe it, it’s a feeling,” Adam Wainwright said. “I knew when I saw Luke come up this last year. In August he came up, and he went like 6 or 7 and 0. There was a different feeling about Luke.”
Weaver started seven games from August 2 through September 20 and was the winning pitcher in all of them. He went seven complete innings twice and pitched into the seventh two other times. He never allowed more than two earned runs and twice allowed zero. He struck out 60 and walked eight over that stretch. It he was clearly leveling up, his performance finally closing the gap between expectations and reality.
More importantly, his disposition was changing. He became more aggressive on the mound, no longer concerned with surviving the fight against his opponents, but consumed by winning it. It’s the type of edge that develops when one stops questioning whether or not they belong in the ring.
“That’s kinda the pitcher I’m gonna be. I’ve always kind of been a very calm, cool, collected type of pitcher. Just try to show no emotion, not let the batter get any type of reads,” he said. “These hitters are good. I needed some type of edge and I think I pitch pretty good when I’m really angry after a home run or something like that. That’s kind of what I toOK out of it and how I rolled with it and I saw some success from it. Not just numbers but how I felt out there. And I think that’s something to keep going with.”
That edge, the fiery self assurance, was what veterans like Wainwright were waiting to see. They had heard plenty about Weaver’s poise, but had yet to see him demonstrate the unshakable confidence possessed by men who face the best hitters on the planet every fifth day.
“I can remember going through a time where, early in your career, you may say, ‘I’m ready,’ and say, ‘I’m gonna make the team,’ but you don’t really believe it yet. There’s a difference in saying stuff and believing stuff,” Wainwright said. “What we saw was a different focus level, a different intensity from Luke on the mound. We heard he had that in Triple-A, but when he came up to the big leagues that’s not what we were seeing. He was ok, but wasn’t like we heard he was. Last year when we saw him come up and be able to go through that lineup two and three times now and not just one time, that’s when you know a guy is finally ready for the show.”
Hitters sense it too. Like other apex predators, MLB batters can sense fear. Now when they step in against Weaver, they know they’re in for a fight.
“I just want to go in with a lot of confidence and just aggression,” he said of his approach this year, something that should give opposing lineups more to think about that in seasons past.
The fact he’s put on pound helps deliver the message as well. Weaver, 6’2 and rail thin, often looked like a boy among men. This year Weaver has packed on 15 pounds already, slavishly devoting himself to eating 5,000 calories a day and turning meal time into an objective rather than a pleasurable diversion.
“I’m eating six pieces of bread and six eggs and, you know, two cups of nuts. It’s just a bunch of stuff. I’m always full,” he said. “Eating just didn’t become fun anymore. It became like a job. So I would advise you never to do that.”
But it paid off, and the 24-year-old is visibly more solid. The added mass should help him weather the workload of a full MLB season, equipping his body to stand up to the physical demand of heavy innings.
“Hopefully I add to some durability, some endurance,” he said. “I’ve never tested those waters before but I feel like I’m some of the best shape I’ve been in. Much stronger, quicker, maybe some pinch running opportunities in the near future.”
As he smiled at his joke, there was a glimpse of the boyishness present in every ballplayer. But gone is the frame of late adolescence. Weaver is ready for the next step, and his profile, mentality and even the esoteric aura say he’s a major leaguer from here on out.