With Michael Wacha’s recurring shoulder injury landing him on the disabled list for the foreseeable future, the St. Louis Cardinals have given what was once Wacha’s spot in the starting rotation to right-hander Luke Weaver, one of the organization’s top pitching prospects. Weaver pitched well enough in his major-league debut over the weekend to warrant at least one more start as a member of the big-league staff.
After a lack of sharpness and command in his start on Monday, August 8, the Cardinals placed Wacha on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation on Tuesday, August 9. Wacha’s current ailment is linked to a stress reaction in his scapula that caused him to miss over two months of the 2014 season. An injury of that nature can flare up at any time and may cause Wacha to transition to a relief pitcher down the road.
At 22 years old, Weaver made his first big-league start on Saturday, August 13, at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. Other than a 3-2 changeup that Cubs shortstop Addison Russell hammered for a two-run homer in the second inning, Weaver did about as well as anyone anticipated. His pitch count climbed quickly, though, as three walks and as many punchouts raised it to 85 and put an end to his outing after four innings.
Weaver posted a 1.62 earned run average in nineteen starts at the High-A level in 2015 and began the 2016 season at Double-A. The start of his 2016 season was put on hold until early June, however, as Weaver suffered a broken left wrist during spring training. Perhaps the injury and the time off it brought with it did Weaver well.
While pitching at the Double-A level, Weaver made twelve starts and put up dazzling numbers, including a 1.40 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 88:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio, all of which led to his promotion to Triple-A and ultimately the majors in early August.
Similar to Wacha, the man he is replacing, Weaver’s most effective pitch is his changeup, as his arm speed gives the pitch deception and helps him retire batters after getting ahead with his fastball. Weaver’s fastball has been clocked primarily in the 93-95 MPH range this season and has reached velocities in the high 90s on rare occasions. New to Weaver’s repertoire this season is a cut fastball, a pitch that he and Adam Wainwright tooled with during spring training. The cutter appears to be a regular fastball when it leaves Weaver’s hand, but the pitch drifts away from right-handed hitters and inside on lefties once it nears the strike zone.
Weaver will make his second major-league start on Saturday, August 20, against the Philadelphia Phillies. With all of the nerves surrounding his debut out of the way, look for Weaver to make more efficient pitches and work deeper in the ballgame.