St. Louis Cardinals: Luke Weaver auditioning for rotation spot beyond this season
With help from one rising rotation rookie, the St. Louis Cardinals could make a late season push for its sixth postseason birth in seven years.
Luke Weaver held division foe Milwaukee Brewers to two runs over 5.2 innings in Tuesday’s victory, placing the St. Louis Cardinals within a deficit less than six games for a postseason spot via the division or wild card.
Between his time with St. Louis (7 games, 4 starts) and Memphis (15 starts) this season, Weaver has compiled a 13-3 record with 112 strikeouts and a 2.53 ERA. Both rosters have enjoyed extended success with Weaver in the fold, as St. Louis has won the last four games that Weaver has pitched, while Memphis is wrapping its highest winning season in its history as a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate.
While the 2014 first-round selection was touted as high as the team’s seventh best prospect by Baseball Prospectus coming into the 2017 season, he has fulfilled a vital role in 2017 with Adam Wainwright missing parts of July and August with ongoing elbow impingement. And Weaver’s recent contributions could carry well over into next season and the Cardinals’ long-term pitching plans.
Weaver’s craft has translated to the big-league level this month as advertised. Over 21 August innings, the rookie has thrown 67 percent of pitches for strikes, demonstrated efficiency averaging around 16 pitches per inning, and limiting opponents to a batting average under .200 with RISP.
Many of these qualities factored into Tuesday’s victory, helping Weaver work around just one home run and walk, while becoming the first Cardinals rookie hurler with back-to-back 10+ strikeout outings since Rick Ankiel in 2000. Weaver just missed his sixth career quality start by an out, but he has already reached this feat three times against the Brewers.
St. Louis’s track record has proven very kind for developing young late season starting arms, including Michael Wacha, who helped St. Louis to the 2013 World Series with NLCS MVP honors less than six months from his MLB debut, and Alex Reyes, who collected four victories in 2016 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in February.
Weaver has had a little more of an extended audition with his debut coming just a little more than a year ago. He noticed mixed results with a 1-4 record and a 5.70 ERA over his first nine MLB games, but did earn honors last year as the Cardinals minor league pitcher of the year.
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Even with this small sample size across two seasons, the 24-year-old could leave a strong impression by the season’s end to at least be considered for a starting role into 2018. The rotation is certainly not immune to some turnover by then.
Most pressing, the St. Louis Cardinals would need to account for a rotation spot if Lance Lynn tests the free agent market and does not re-sign. Top prospect Alex Reyes could also factor into consideration if his arm heals to full strength by Spring Training.
Regardless of the rotation’s future outlook, Weaver has demonstrated flexibility with some bullpen work and prolonged minor stints that could only help in his recent transition to the rotation. If he proves he can sustain a similar level of production, the St. Louis Cardinals should not have a problem finding him starting opportunities for 2017 and beyond.
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Weaver’s next start is scheduled on Sunday against the San Francisco Giants. The road contest lines up as another favorable match-up against a Giants roster that has the second-fewest runs scored this season.