Young starter takes first loss after elevating pitch count in early frames
By Evan Webeck
PHILADELPHIA -- Luke Weaver gets nerves before every game. But the special jitters he had before his first Major League start a week ago have subsided.
What hasn't subsided, manager Mike Matheny speculated after the Cardinals' 4-2 loss to the Phillies on Saturday, is the high regard in which Weaver holds Major League hitters. Not to be mistaken, facing big league hitters is much different than facing Minor Leaguers -- but it can force a young pitcher into trying to be too perfect.
Transitioning to the bigs can sometimes lead to aiming the ball too much, thus leading to misses and an elevated pitch count.
Weaver didn't walk a batter over five innings in his second big league start, but it took him 96 pitches to get through five. In his debut, he used 85 to make it through four.
"If there's one thing I think he's doing, he might be giving hitters at this level too much credit," Matheny said. "It looks like he's trying to be perfect here. That's something we can tell him, but it's something that he'll have to learn."
It sounded like Weaver had gotten the message loud and clear, whether it came from Matheny or elsewhere. He's conscious of the fact that he's a rookie. And he takes that to mean that there's plenty of room for improvement.
"Me, just coming on the scene here and stepping in that water a little bit, I might be trying to make too good of pitches," Weaver said. "It kind of pushes the pitch count up a little bit. … It's a matter of getting the ball down and trusting my stuff. Next time, I'll be better."
Weaver believed he took a step forward from his debut, in which he allowed two runs over four innings and walked three. But Matheny saw some familiar faults on Saturday.
"I think he made some similar mistakes," Matheny said. "You're seeing really close misses, which is nice to see. You're not seeing balls sprayed all over the place. When he gets into good counts, you're seeing foul balls or balls just off the plate that run the deep counts. He had quite a few 0-2 counts that turned into full counts and turned into seven-, eight-pitch at-bats."
Weaver quickly put himself in a hole with his pitch count in the first inning. After getting to 2-2 with No. 3 hitter Tommy Joseph, it took Weaver another seven pitches to get the Phillies' first baseman swinging. It took him 31 pitches to get through the first frame.
But, similar to the career trajectory the Cardinals are hoping for from their No. 2 prospect, Weaver straightened it out as the game went on. After he allowed three hits, two runs and a hard out in the first, the Phillies got to Weaver for only one more run in his remaining four innings. It was after that first inning, too, that Weaver connected on his first career hit -- a single up the middle -- and he followed with another in the fifth.
"I was looking for at least one tonight," Weaver said with a smile. "Just try to hit something hard and hope to find a hole. But I'm not mad about two."
Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.