When Cards need to turn two, Seth Maness is the man

ST. LOUIS — It’s to the point where people in the press box just expect it.

And they’re not the only ones.

“The other day we mentioned Maness to (Carlos) Beltran,” Mike Matheny says. “He said, ‘That’s the ground ball guy, right?'”

“When he doesn’t get a double play,” Joe Kelly says, “We are like …”

The pitcher drops his jaw and opens his palms, feigning shock.

Seth Maness, 24, is both the Cardinals’ ground ball guy and double-play wizard. Of course, the former helps the latter. But no one really predicted the rookie sinkerballer would do it this well.

“He’s a stud,” Kelly says. “He’s got a great sinker. He’s had two huge, clutch double plays for me when I’m going out of the game. I can’t say enough good stuff about him. He’s awesome.”

The second came during the Cardinals’ 5-1 win over the Dodgers on Tuesday, when Maness replaced Kelly with two men on base in the sixth inning. He took the mound with 11 double plays in his pocket, and a major league-leading rate of 2.58 double plays per nine innings pitched. A 91-mph sinker to the Dodgers’ A.J. Ellis ticked the double play total up to 12.

“It’s pounding the bottom of the zone,” Matheny says. “He’s got deceptive, late movement. And he doesn’t catch too much of the plate. He’s got a knack for it.

“It’s not easy for a young player to come into a situation with men on base. But his track record has shown that. He’s always been a strike thrower. He’s been able to pull that off for us.”

Maness has the admiration of his manager, the respect of his fellow rookies and a nickname from the veteran Beltran. But you won’t catch the ground ball guy with a knack for double plays accepting much praise.

“A lot of credit goes to the defense,” Maness says. “They’re making plays behind me. It’s not easy to roll double plays. I tip my hat to them.”

Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com.