Tuivailala pleased with development of cutter

Cardinals believe pitch will complement young righty's four-seamer

Tuivailala pleased with development of cutter

JUPITER, Fla. -- The request seemed sudden at the time for Sam Tuivailala, who, on the heels of an extra-inning loss the day before, merely wanted an opportunity for a bounceback inning.

Standing on the Citi Field mound that Tuesday night in May, Tuivailala took a visit from Tony Cruz. Passing along a strong suggestion from the dugout, Cruz told Tuivailala he'd be calling for the cutter. Tuivailala wasn't sure how exactly to respond.

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"I didn't really see that coming," he laughed, recalling that conversation on Tuesday.

The request seemed hasty to a right-handed reliever who hardly considered the pitch a part of his repertoire. Before Tuivailala had been cut from camp last spring, Major League pitching coach Derek Lilliquist had encouraged the righty to fiddle with the pitch. Tuivailala did, albeit infrequently, but he suddenly found himself without the choice.

He met the challenge by throwing a 14-pitch scoreless inning against the Mets to draw that bounceback outing he sought.

"It was kind of stressful, but it worked out for me," Tuivailala said. "I kept things simple, threw it, and did what they wanted me to do. Now, I'm at a point where it's going to help me out."

Tuivailala toyed with the pitch the rest of the 2015 season and has been featuring it already this spring. He has solicited feedback from Lance Lynn and Marco Gonzales about how to shape it, all the while generating confidence that he can use the pitch effectively in various counts.

On Wednesday, Tuivailala is expected to showcase the offering during his first live batting practice session of spring.

"Going into this Spring Training and even the last couple days, I started figuring out little things," Tuivailala said. "I seemed to have figured out how to throw it now. Knowing that I have that in my back pocket gives me a little wiggle room to face a guy knowing that he may not just be sitting on one pitch."

The Cardinals pushed for Tuivailala to add the pitch mostly because the staff believes it will complement his four-seam fastball, which, according to FanGraphs.com, Tuivailala has thrown at an average velocity of 97 mph over his 16 big league appearances. Featuring a cutter out of the same arm slot but with different velocity and movement should make that fastball tougher to track.

Tuivailala enters camp without an obvious place on the Opening Day roster, but he is nevertheless making a push for consideration. He had his first taste of the Majors as a September callup in 2014 and made 14 appearances last season, improving as the year went.

"I want to make the team this year," Tuivailala said. "With everything that I'm doing right now, I feel good going into all the Spring Training games. I just want to establish myself on the team. That's my main goal."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.