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Baseball / Sports

Cardinals' Wainwright learning to love his sinker (again)

JUPITER, Fla. -- It wasn't an admission that Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright stood up to deliver. He didn't gather teammates around or invite the media over or issue a statement in response to the numbers that weren't that hard to find.

But he did make one Friday after facing hitters for the first time.

"I can," he acknowledged, "get cutter-happy at times."

Wainwright, who has thrice finished in the top three for National League Cy Young Award voting, has significantly increased the role his cut fastball has in his array of pitches over the past few years. It's not his curve. But it has all but replaced his sinker. Before 2013, Wainwright's career high for percentage of cutters thrown in a single month was 24.38, according to BrooksBaseball.net and the Pitch F/x data. That was September 2009.

In 2013, he had six months higher than that, including October.

Cutter-happy, indeed.

Wainwright was one of the second waves of pitchers to face hitters at the Cardinals spring training. He threw his first of three planned live batting practice sessions -- the shortest of the three. Before a hitter stepped into the box, Wainwright went through his warmup on the Field 1 mound. He fired a couple curves from the stretch. He fired a couple curves from the windup. At one point, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist shouted out to him that he had good spin, "real good spin," on one of his pitches. That was his cutter.

But that was not the only fastball he threw Friday.

That's kind of been his focus this spring: fastball diversity.

"Good, late, hard-biting action -- which is what I want," Wainwright said of his cutter. "I'm working hard on my two-seam fastball. To be able to throw both of those is really what I want to do and not fall in love with one and not the other."

Last season, Wainwright's approach drifted away from his sinking two-seam fastball and more to his four-seam fastball -- an elevation pitch that he worked on a year ago -- and that beloved cutter. Consider the percentage of times he threw the cutter last season:

April 26.99 percent

May 28.77 percent

June 30.68 percent

July 35.94 percent

August 28.15 percent

September 21.56 percent

October 27.20 percent

All of those numbers are courtesy BrooksBaseball.net.

The rise in his four-seam was more gradual over the season, hop-scotching from 17.72 percent at the start of the season to 28.07 by September and one out of every four pitches in October. The fall of the sinker was precipitous. He left spring training with a good grip on one and threw it 27.97 percent of the time. It was his most-used fastball. That drifted to 18.28 percent by July and then flat-lined at 10.60 in the playoffs. He's using spring to rediscover the fondness he had for the sinker.

That is, after all, what spring is for.

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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CARDINALS


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