SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Walking the first batter of the game would frustrate any pitcher. When Cardinals Double-A prospect Seth Maness did it on June 1, folks had a tough time believing what they saw.
That’s because Maness doesn’t walk batters. Well, actually he’s walked four. All season.
The leadoff walk was Maness’ third free pass of the season at the time. He walked another batter in his most recent start Thursday night in Tulsa, giving the control freak a ridiculous total of just four walks in 71 2/3 innings spread between High-A Palm Beach and Springfield this season.
“I hate walking people,” Maness explains. “It’s something I try to avoid. I try to work ahead and get ground balls and avoid those long counts and keep the pitch count down.
“I like to make them earn it. If they get a free pass, they didn’t earn anything and they are that much closer to scoring.”
Maness is making about as quick work of the Cardinals farm system as he does of opposing hitters. An 11th round draft pick in last year’s draft out of East Carolina University, Maness pitched at three different levels last summer and has already seen two more this year.
The right-hander posted a 2.15 ERA in seven starts with Palm Beach to start the year before being promoted to Springfield. He walked just one batter in 46 innings in the Florida State League and held opponents to a .256 average.
In four starts with Springfield, it’s been more of the same. Maness allowed just two earned runs in 21 2/3 innings (0.83 ERA) over his first three starts at Double-A and went at least seven innings in all three. He was roughed up a bit Thursday night, allowing three earned runs on nine hits in just four innings. But yes, he walked just one batter.
“It’s been quite a blur to be honest,” Maness said of his quick assent to Double-A. “It’s been quite a ride, seeing a lot of places and playing with a lot of guys. I’m just trying to keep grinding it out.
“Knock on wood, hopefully I can keep it up. It’s a pleasure to be here and just a great environment to be in.”
Maness relies on a sinking fastball that hits 90 MPH – on a good day. He lives in the upper 80’s and will mix in the occasional offspeed pitch. His goal is to get a ground ball with the fewest number of pitches possible.
And so far, it’s worked to near perfection.
“It’s been a teaching tool for a lot of our pitchers to see how efficient he’s been,” said Springfield manager Mike Shildt. “Also to keep the defense involved like he does. It’s no coincidence we make nice defensive plays behind him. He keeps guys in the game.
“It’s impressive. It just speaks to the philosophy of this organization for years. Work fast, get your sinker in the zone and down and don’t shy away from contact. It’s a recipe this organization has had for many years and it’s been successful.”
Asked if he can ever a remember a starter with three walks at this point in the season, Shildt paused and said, “There’s nobody that comes to my mind in this organization. We’ve had strike throwers but those are pretty impressive numbers.”
Maness had 17 walks in 105 innings during his senior year at East Carolina when he went 10-3 and had a 1.71 ERA in 15 starts. He had just five walks in 53 innings spread out over three different levels after signing with the Cardinals last June.
In 124 2/3 innings since joining the Cardinals organization last June, Maness has walked just nine of the 490 batters he’s faced.
“I’ve just been blessed with fastball command and all my pitches,” Maness said. “I can throw them all for strikes and I have that confidence that when I need them, I know they are going to be around the plate somewhere.
“I just really don’t know how to explain it. Growing up I’ve always been able to throw it around the plate and had good command. I’m a pitch to contact guy and I try to get ground balls and keep the defense in it behind me and try to get them back in the dugout.”
Said Shildt: “He’s got an efficient delivery. He’s got a repeatable delivery and he has some tempo to what he does. Everything he does, he keeps it pretty compact and simple.”
The 23-year-old Maness is a virtual unknown to most Cardinals fans. But while Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and others are getting the attention, Maness continues to rack up some impressive numbers.
An organization rich on pitching prospects, the Cardinals might have found themselves another one.
“I think being at Double-A says enough about his success and what he’s done and how the organization feels about him,” Shildt said. “He’s got a nice opportunity here to be in the rotation and continue to prove what he can do. Right now it’s been a pleasant start for him.”