Weaver rides changeup to best start of 2023
CINCINNATI -- Armed with a nearly unhittable changeup, Luke Weaver turned in his best start of the season, 6 1/3 scoreless innings complete with six strikeouts, a walk and three hits. It continued a trend of continued improvement for the 29-year-old, who set a new season high in innings pitched and season low in hits allowed in the Reds’ 2-1 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday to split the series at Great American Ball Park.
Weaver started his afternoon strong, allowing only a walk in the first inning and striking out Cardinals first baseman Alec Burleson on four pitches to open the second. Juan Yepez followed with a double on an 0-1 changeup, the only hit off Weaver’s changeup the Cardinals would get. It was a change from his previous start against the Yankees, in which he allowed three hits, including a home run, off the pitch.
“Yepez, the first at-bat where he hooks the double, that’s a bad [changeup], so it flattens out,” Weaver said. “You saw some better ones that are running. Those are just the moments of ... I know what it’s supposed to look like ... and in a big moment, I need that to somewhat be in that area. In the Yankees outing, that’s where it went wrong. Obviously, very frustrating, so work was done.”
In the past, the changeup had been one of Weaver’s go-to pitches, but it hadn’t been working the way he was used to over his eight-year Major League career. So in between starts, the right-hander adjusted his hand positioning to try to get it back on track.
And it worked well for him. After Yepez’s double, only one other changeup was hit into play. Nine of his 19 changeups generated whiffs, and he closed out four of his six strikeouts with the pitch.
“I put in a lot of work this week to try to tweak that,” Weaver said. “Today, [the changeup] came to life with some swings and misses, and [it was] competitive in 3-2 counts, except for the last one obviously. That’s the completeness of the arsenal, being able to throw a curveball, slider and changeup. I wouldn’t disagree and say that it was probably the best it’s been in a while.”
Weaver began to struggle near the end of his outing, which was not unusual for him this season. He had a 2.00 ERA this season in the second through fourth innings entering Thursday and a 14.09 ERA in the fifth inning and later.
Pitching in the seventh for just the second time this season, Weaver allowed a long flyout to Paul DeJong to open the inning. That was followed by a single by Burleson, and when Yepez was hit by the ninth pitch of the next plate appearance, manager David Bell came out to remove his starter and bring in reliever Lucas Sims. One catcher pickoff and foul-tip strikeout later, Weaver’s line was closed on his first scoreless outing of the season.
“Yepez had a really good at-bat there. I just tried to do too much,” Weaver said. “I wasn’t holding back. I ripped the changeup. It just didn’t come out the right way. It’s all competitive. I can live with that.”
With his changeup on point, the righty was able to mix his other pitches to keep the Cardinals off balance. His other two strikeouts came on low fastballs, and he excelled at limiting hard contact, tying a season low with five hard-hit balls (over 95 mph exit velocity).
“He had a really good changeup, a really good slider, but he'd also get ahead with those two pitches and finish with a really good fastball late,” Bell said. “It made it very unpredictable. Located his pitches, changed speeds and he has good stuff, too. It was great to get him deep into the game, very efficient couple of games.”