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From High School Outfielder to Cardinals Flamethrower

From High School Outfielder to Cardinals Flamethrower

Most pitchers throw hardest by holding their fastball across the seams, meaning all four seams backspin through the air on each revolution. But Hicks prefers a two-seamer (also known as a sinker), which gives him that natural tailing action without sacrificing velocity. He rarely throws the four-seamer, but the Cardinals expect him to use it more, in time.

“I think it’s something he’ll add to his repertoire,” Manager Mike Matheny said. “The goal would be elevating it a little bit more, using the top of the zone à la Chapman and most of the other hard throwers in the game, who have a lot of success there. But none of them can throw 100-plus on a consistent basis and have that much movement.”

Hicks had not pitched above Class A before this season, but the Cardinals gave him a nonroster spot in their major league spring training camp, out of curiosity and as a reward for his strong performance in the minors. Early in camp, though, Hicks was late for a meeting, and Matheny reassigned him.

“They wanted me to learn a lesson, that it’s not acceptable,” Hicks said. “I think it worked.”

Lesson learned, Hicks returned for the Cardinals’ final exhibition game in Florida as a substitute starter for Adam Wainwright, who had a hamstring injury. Hicks overwhelmed the Washington Nationals, regularly hitting triple digits on the radar gun.

“He was 100, 102, for four innings,” starter Miles Mikolas said. “Everyone was like, ‘What just happened?’ It was kind of an eye opener. If we were going to come out of the gate hot, this was a guy that was probably going to be a big part of that.”

As they contemplated putting Hicks on the roster, despite his lack of experience, the Cardinals reached into their past for an example. In spring training 2001, they decided they could not break camp without the slugger Albert Pujols, who had played only three games above Class A. It was a wise decision.

“That name came up in our discussions about Jordan, in terms of the last time players were coming into the front office saying, ‘Dude, that guy needs to be with us,’ ” General Manager Michael Girsch said. “We were like, ‘We weren’t even vaguely thinking of him for this role.’ Once every 20 years or so, you get that.”

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