The number of starting pitchers who rely heavily on the overhanded curveball has dwindled in recent years, although the Cardinals have had their share from Chris Carpenter to Adam Wainwright to Lance Lynn to Michael Wacha, who has picked it up.
Now from the left side comes rookie Austin Gomber, who will make his third big-league start Friday night in Kansas City.
Gomber got to spend some time with Wainwright a few days ago in Miami and they didn’t just talk curveballs. Wainwright, for instance, actually had approached Gomber a while back about adding a slider but cautioned him in Miami that he not take away from his curveball and that he might need two different grips for the two pitches.
“I love ‘Mad Dog’ (Maddux),” Gomber said of pitching coach Mike Maddux. “But there’s something to be said hearing stuff from somebody we would consider a peer but, at the same time, somebody I was watching pitch in the World Series when I was 12, 13 years old.
“When you hear stuff from him, it just resonates different than when you hear something from a pitching coach.”
Gomber set the bar high in his first start, working 6 1/3 hitless innings in a no-decision at Cincinnati. On Saturday in Pittsburgh, he allowed three runs in the fourth inning and left after four, having given up four runs for the game.
“First one good. Second one wasn’t as good,” said the 24-year-old. “I think I fell a little too much in love with the new pitch, the slider. It was so good in Cincinnati that first time out, so I just tried to do the same thing. Maybe I didn’t establish the rest of my pitches. I ended up giving up some big hits with (the slider) I can’t try to make it my best pitch in Week One.
“But, I felt even more comfortable in Pittsburgh than I did in Cincinnati even though the results weren’t as good.”
Gomber, who threw 71 pitches in four innings, said it had been reinforced to him by Maddux that “strike one is a choice.”
The southpaw said he also had learned that if he has a conviction about a pitch, he can shake off catcher Yadier Molina. “I don’t shake him off much but he told me at one point, ‘You throw what you want to throw,’” said Gomber.
“He’ll always have our back but when you first come up, you’re a little hesitant to shake him off. He told me in Pittsburgh, ‘If you don’t want to throw it, it’s probably not going to work out.’”