JUPITER, Fla. -- In his audition for a spot in the bullpen this spring, Sam Tuivailala is once again flashing his curveball, a pitch that he had put on the backburner for the last two years while trying to develop a cutter.Tuivailala, who is scheduled for his next spring appearance
JUPITER, Fla. -- In his audition for a spot in the bullpen this spring, Sam Tuivailala is once again flashing his curveball, a pitch that he had put on the backburner for the last two years while trying to develop a cutter.
Tuivailala, who is scheduled for his next spring appearance on Sunday, has struck out 11 over five scoreless innings this spring. Manager Mike Matheny recently declared this the "best spring yet" for Tuivailala, and that's in large part due to the mix of pitches the 24-year-old righty is featuring.
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"He's using his stuff a little differently," Matheny said. "You're just trying to figure out when you have a big arm like that how to keep him on your club and how can you get enough movement that you don't have to be so fine. The curveball has been a key for him."
It was Matheny who encouraged Tuivailala to discard the curve two years ago and instead focus on fine-tuning a cutter. Tuivailala, who converted to a pitcher in 2012, heeded the advice, but didn't see the desired result. And, as a result, he spent two seasons fluctuating between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis.
Seeking to make this the season he establishes himself as a ready big league reliever, Tuivailala entered spring with a changed approach.
"When I don't have to rely on my fastball and have the curveball to get guys off of it, it changes the timing," Tuivailala said. "I'm able to throw it for strikes, and I'm able to bury it when I want to. Guys won't be able to time it up as well. So it's definitely been a pitch that has helped me out."
Once a fixture on the organization's prospect lists, Tuivailala appears to have hit a critical juncture in his career. He's pitched for four seasons now, but struggled to stick in the Majors. After making 14 appearances with the Cardinals in 2015, Tuivailala logged just nine innings with the club last season. During that time, Tuivailala allowed 12 hits, six runs and struck out only one more batter (seven) than he walked.
All the while, the cutter never proved to be an especially effective pitch.
"He just never got the feel for it," Matheny said. "I think he still may, but what he's doing right now looks real good."
Tuivailala has never made it onto a Cardinals Opening Day roster, but he does have a shot this year. He's in the mix for a bullpen spot, and has thus far showcased himself well.
"I feel more relaxed out there," Tuivailala said. "I feel like I know what I'm doing. I'm still learning when to use my pitches. Obviously, I know how to throw them, but it's about setting guys up and using those pitches to my advantage."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.