Luke Weaver was officially activated from the disabled list Saturday evening and thrown right into competitive game action on Sunday at Double-A Springfield after missing two months with a fractured left wrist.
It was well worth the wait for the Cardinals 2014 first rounder, who couldn’t have made a better opening impression, punching out a career-high 10 batters in a four-hitter over 7 1/3 innings as the Cardinals salvaged the series finale with a 5-0 shutout victory over Frisco Roughriders. The righty did not walk a single batter in his winning effort.
Weaver commanded three solid pitches - four-seam fastball, changeup, and slider/cutter effectively, turning the Roughriders lineup over three times while working into the eighth inning.
"It was just a nice collection and mix of all of my pitches," Weaver told MiLB.com. "My fastball and cutter were combining nicely to give me an edge in a lot of at-bats. It allowed me to open up the strike zone a bit and get them to chase. I was comfortable with my mechanics and on the mound and with no injury to hold me back, I got into the flow immediately.
Let’s get right into the detailed action.
Weaver inning-by-inning recap:
1st inning: Gave up a leadoff single to Rangers rehabbing outfielder Shin-Soo Choo that snuck through 4-6 hole, but Weaver pounded the zone and retired the next three in a row, including his first strikeout on three straight fastballs to Rangers star prospect Lewis Brinson. He threw 11 of his 13 pitches for strikes. Nine swings, four misses.
2nd inning: Faced one over the minimum for a second straight inning, Weaver was primarily showing fastball/change combo en route to fanning the side against the Roughriders. He got hitters to chase his fastball and slider/cutter up in the zone for strikeouts. Van Hoosier singled on an off-speed pitch that remained up and out over the plate. 24 pitches - 21 for strikes over two innings. Fastball was 91-94 mph, cutter 90-91 mph, and changeup 85 mph. Seven swings, four misses.
3rd inning: Retired Roughriders 1-2-3 in a 9-pitch third inning. Weaver reportedly touched 96, and his cutter ticked 93-94 in this frame. The righty struck out Brinson for the second time to end the third. 27 of his 33 pitches were thrown for strikes at that point. Six swings, one miss.
4th inning: Weaver worked around a two-out error thanks to an excellent running catch by Breyvic Valera to snag a hard liner in the fourth inning. He finished the inning at just 42 pitches. Five swings, one miss.
5th inning: Continuing to cruise, Weaver sat down Frisco in order in his scoreless fifth. He held them to two hits and put away hitters with an effective hard slider. Sitting at 90-91, he has gotten chases and whiffs, especially elevated ones. Weaver has thrown 14 cutters through his first five innings. Six swings, four misses.
6th inning: Weaver worked a spotless sixth, sitting down the Roughriders top of the order on 12 pitches, including a strikeout of Choo to lead off the inning. He has retired his last seven and matched a career-high with eight punchouts through six. Seven swings, four misses.
7th inning: Pitched around a single with two groundouts and a strikeout. Weaver fanned Preston Beck to set a new career-high with nine strikeouts in this inning. He was at an efficient 78 pitches and was on the attack from the get-go, pounding 57 strikes. Five swings, one miss.
8th inning: Weaver served up a lead-off double to Kellin Deglan and struck out his final batter of the night before being lifted for Ronnie Shaban. Finished with 87 pitches - 62 for strikes. Four swings, one miss.
Overall summation, Weaver did not appear to be overpowering any hitters on MiLB.TV. However, TCN's No. 4 prospect consistently pounded the zone to get ahead with the four-seam fastball and was proficient at elevating his cutter out of the zone, changing the hitter's eye level and getting them to chase up.
While his fastball and cutter had just a few mph separation differential, it was unusual and deceptive. His change has always been his bread-and-butter, and that was the case as the game progressed and Frisco adjusted to four-seam/cutter mix. The off-speed pitch had good fade.
It is exciting that Weaver is now back in action to finally gain traction and results in 2016. It is worth noting that he silenced the Roughriders big bats’ of Choo, Brinson, Ronald Guzman, and Ryan Cordell, who went a combined 1-for-12, including four strikeouts.
In addition to Weaver's promotion to Springfield, several other moves were made over the weekend.
C.J. McElroy was placed on the 7-day disabled list on Friday. McElroy left Thursday's game early in Midland after being shaken up chasing a foul ball in the left field corner. He limped off the field with an apparent leg injury.
Update: McElroy is likely out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
SS Juan Herrera joined Weaver from rehabbing on the backfields in extended spring training in Jupiter, FL to make his Double-A debut. Herrera appeared in his first game with Springfield on Saturday playing shortstop and singling in four at-bats. The steady gloveman went hitless on Sunday night.
To accommodate Weaver on Springfield's active roster, Joey Donofrio was given his release by the organization. The 27-year old had a 3.97 ERA in 15 games (22 2/3 innings) this season. He struck out 19 and walked 13. The former TCN Springfield Reliever of the Year compiled a career 17-12 record with a 2.80 ERA in 164 games over his five year stint with the Cardinals.
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