If a double play is a pitcher’s best friend, then as a rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals last season Seth Maness was all about making new friends.
Maness led all National League relievers with 16 induced double-play groundballs. He became manager Mike Matheny’s go-to-guy for getting the Cardinals free from less-than-two-out jams before the ninth inning.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
On Wednesday, Feb. 12, Maness and the rest of the Cardinals’ pitchers and catchers report to the team’s spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla.
“I’m ready to get cranked back up again,” Maness said when he was in Memphis a few weeks ago, as part of the Cardinals Caravan stop at AutoZone Park. “Ready to challenge somebody.”
Maness, 25, began the 2013 season with the Redbirds, but after four starts the Cardinals called him up and put him in the bullpen. He appeared in 66 games, had a 5-2 record and one save with a 2.32 earned run average. In the postseason, he appeared in nine games and over five innings had a 1.80 ERA.
Credit a minor-league pitcher drafted by the Miami Marlins, Brad Mincey, with an assist on all this success. Maness roomed with Mincey at East Carolina University.
“He had this sinker,” Maness said. “I’d watch guys swing at it in the dirt.”
He also wished he had that pitch. Finally, he asked Mincey to show him the grip. It wasn’t anything revolutionary, just a two-seam fastball with some tail and sink; Maness threw a four-seam at the time.
It was in college, Maness says, where he got over the idea that the strikeout was a big deal.
“Yeah, strikeouts are flashy,” he said, “but more than anything it’s just about getting outs.”
By today’s big-league standards, Maness is not a hard thrower. His fastball “sits” at 90 mph, occasionally runs up to 92.
“Closing probably won’t be my role,” Maness said. “They want harder, strikeout guys. You’ve got to stay within yourself, be realistic about what you’ve got. Hopefully, someday, I’ll be a starter.”
After all, he had plenty of success at that in 2012 when he was the Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Splitting his season between High A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield he compiled a 14-4 record and 2.97 ERA over 27 starts.
But for now, he’s happy working out of the bullpen. He may throw only a dozen pitches or so in a typical outing. So he has put other pitches on the shelf for now, and almost exclusively will throw that sinker he learned from Mincey, who missed last season with Tommy John (reconstructive elbow) surgery.
“You pitch to contact, you might give up a lot of hits,” Maness said, “but a lot of those groundballs will find a glove.”
So much happened so fast last season that Maness is just now realizing the magnitude of it all.
“You’re in the moment,” he said. “It’s always another game, another game. I got back home (Pinehurst, N.C.) and people would say, `You pitched in the World Series.’ That’s when it hits you a little more. Taking a deep breath and looking back, it was awesome.”