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Once skeptics of pitch-call tech, Cardinals debut PitchCom after spying a strategic benefit

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Cardinals look to continue record win streak

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner (7) gets in front of a low pitch during the first inning of a MLB game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. The Cardinals entered the game with a team record 16 consecutive wins as they look to secure a wildcard playoff spot. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

One of the last team’s to adopt the use of available technology to relay pitch calls from catcher to pitcher, the Cardinals and catcher Andrew Knizner debuted PitchCom at Busch Stadium on Tuesday — and there’s more to the team's sudden change in opinion than cloaking their signals.

They have spied a benefit in strategy.

Knizner, who had experimented with the tech before the season, had a keypad on his right kneepad Tuesday and used it to send a few signs to pitcher Jordan Hicks, who had a speaker tucked in his hatband, when they had a runner on second base. Hicks would hear the pitch call in the voice of a "male Siri," the right-hander said.

The duo used finger signals at other times. Hicks said after the game that he would use the technology again and feel more comfortable with it in his next appearance. The Cardinals plan to have Hicks and Knizner use the gear and will make it available to other batteries.

Hicks wondered if the tech might have made the sequencing too predictable, but noted the ease in which did allow him to shake off a pitch call quickly without having to then meet to change signs.

Major League Baseball approved the use of the tech this season as part of its answer to sign-stealing, and more than half of the teams immediately embraced its use in some way. Three fielders are also permitted to wear the tech so they can hear the pitch call, and that would usually be the shortstop and center fielder, both of whom use the pitch call to determine their pre-pitch positioning.

In a tweet, the PitchCom company said the Cardinals were the 30th and final team to utilize their technology.

There were times, Hicks said after the Cardinals' 8-1 loss, that he had the pitch call with his back to Knizner and before he was on the mound. That allowed him to step on the pitching rubber and go — which has brought a new dimension to the tech that caught the Cardinals eye.

The Cardinals were skeptical during spring training and remained so when they saw pitchers having a hard time hearing the signals, but reconsidered that view recently, manager Oliver Marmol conceded in his office Tuesday before the Cardinals' first use. They saw how it speeds up the call and can agitate a hitter — a potential competitive edge they want to explore in the coming week so they can exploit.

“The PitchCom has actually disrupted hitters timing with getting in the box,” Marmol said. “You look up and that guy is coming at you. He already has his sign. … Hitters feel rushed because they get in the box (and) the pitcher already knows what he’s throwing. He’s already starting.”

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