Cardinals farmhand John Gast was a walking, talking baseball cliché -- a soft-tossing left-hander -- with a problem as old as the game itself: He needed a pitch to bust in on the hands of right-handed hitters.
Gast does not watch ballgames on TV, but, as a second-year pro last spring, he had heard of that panacea espoused that summer in Sports Illustrated's 2011 piece: the cut fastball, AKA, the cutter. The trendy pitch was making careers (Mike Adams', for one) and burnishing others (Dan Haren, for another).
So with Class A Advanced Palm Beach pitching coach Dennis Martinez looking on, Gast gave it a try.
"I was just messin' around with it in grips and throwing it in bullpen [sessions]. It didn't work out for me too well," he said. "I wasn't able to throw it hard with a little bit of break. It was more like a slider, and that wasn't what I was looking for."
St. Louis' No. 9 prospect instead settled on the simplest of solutions: a four-seam fastball. The pitch nearly every Little Leaguer learns first was new to Gast -- and it's seemed foreign so far to Double-A batters: The former Florida State standout won each of his first three starts this season, and has compiled a 2.03 ERA through 44 1/3 innings.
Right-handed hitters? They're batting .218 against him.
"If you have three pitches that are effective," Gast, 23, said, "it's just about being consistent with them. That's the baseline, and everything else is icing." (Tell that to Trevor Bauer.)
MiLB.com asked Gast to describe and grade each of the pitches he employs. (His grade is based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is Gast, in his own words.
Wait: "Now all the hitters will know what I throw," Gast joked. "OK ... alright."
Pitch one: Four-seam fastball
: I threw all two-seams throughout high school and college. Last year, I started throwing four-seams. I was having trouble to the extension side, to the inside part of the plate to the righty. Throwing the two-seam, that tends to tail back over the plate, so I was looking for something that would stay more straight. It was just a change in grip. It wasn't like learning a slider.
Purpose: It won't tail as much. So far this season, I have been able to go in there pretty good. It keeps them from diving out over the plate, adds something for them to think about.
Grip: Traditional. It's not any different than anybody else's.
Speed: Probably around 88, 90 miles per hour, a little faster than my two-seam.
Grade: I have to grade myself, huh? Let's go with a 45.
Pitch two: Two-seam fastball
: I just got into throwing that one. I don't know why I started throwing a two-seamer over a four-seamer; it just felt comfortable.
Purpose: It has more sink on it.
Grip: My grip on this one is a little different. A lot of guys will go on the seams with a little space between their fingers. I throw mine with my index and middle fingers together, so it's almost like one big finger.
Speed: The range is 86 to 88.
Grade: We'll go with a 40.
Pitch three: Changeup
: I never really threw a changeup until college and then hardly at all in college. In 2010, I had two or three weeks between when my junior season ended and I reported to Batavia. I was working on it when I had an epiphany moment where everything clicked and it started working for me.
Purpose: It's all about timing with hitters, so anything you can do to disrupt it. Obviously, the thing that makes it work is the arm speed. Your hand is still going to change speed; it just comes off your hand slower, which is what makes it effective.
Grip: I use a circle-change. I grip it across two seams, so my ring finger and middle finger will be running along the two seams. It resembles a two-seam fastball.
Speed: I like to see 10 to 12 miles per hour off of the fastball, so 75, 76.
Grade: I'd say it's average, so I'll go with 50. I use it a quite a bit.
Pitch four: Slurve
: It was my main out-pitch in high school and college. It was pretty easy to pick up. I was more of a slinger -- I had a lower arm slot in high school -- and I had Tommy John surgery and changed my motion. It was a little easier to throw when you're slinging across it. I'm a little more on top than I was, but not by much. The action of the pitch hasn't changed; the hitters are just better.
Purpose: I go to it for a strikeout.
Grip: If you take your fingers like you're throwing a two-seam, inside and up over the horseshoe, make a 'V' around the horseshoe and then just dig your middle finger into the seam.
Speed: I like to see it around 78, maybe close to 80.
Grade: Let's go with a 35. When I started developing the changeup I got away from it and it got weaker. Right now, it's probably my fourth best pitch. It hasn't been my focus.