After two spring training starts, the panic button was at the ready for many Cardinals fans regarding Miles Mikolas, the team's second biggest acquisition this offseason. Why? Because as made evident by the front office's inactivity on the starting pitcher market, Mikolas' spot in the rotation never once appeared in doubt. Yet, over his first 4.2 innings in his return from Japan, Mikolas allowed 10 earned runs and struck out only two hitters. Back-to-back disheartening performances left many wondering -- regardless of how early it was in his return -- if Mikolas' success in Japan would even translate to the Major Leagues.
Fortunately, in what presented itself as a pivotal start -- for as pivotal as a spring training game can be -- Mikolas delivered a solid performance against the Houston Astros -- one of the league's best offenses -- scattering four hits and two walks over four scoreless innings, while striking out three. The highlight of his outing? Mikolas' fourth-inning strikeout of Carlos Correa, with two runners on and nobody out.
Beyond the obvious, the fact that a strikeout was important with two runners on, nobody out, and only a one-run lead, Mikolas also displayed repertoire depth in his relatively quick battle versus the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year.
His fastball was lively enough to be effective up in the zone -- a philosophy preferred by new pitching coach Mike Maddux:
Keep in mind when watching this swing and miss, Correa feasts on fastballs up (but still in the zone) -- yielding an average exit velocity of 92.1 MPH over his first three MLB seasons and a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .385. While the stadium gun clocked Mikolas in the upper 90's at times, he is likely to sit in the 91-94 MPH range throughout the season. Frankly, this is plenty fast given the amount of movement he displayed as the progressed (admittedly, his fastballs were rather straight during the first and second innings).
His slider was sharp, catching Correa off guard completely (focus on the collapsing of his back knee) for strike two:
And his down-in-the-zone changeup was arguably his very best pitch of the entire outing:
Putting it all together, and you have a repertoire-revealing strikeout against one of the league's better hitters:
Factor in the curveball and other pitch variations Mikolas has been tinkering with under the watchful eye of Maddux, and you arrive at a pretty exciting repertoire. While I am not the biggest fan of his mechanics -- he's purposefully late to get a few more ticks on his fastball -- it isn't something I'd worry about with a pitcher on a two-year deal. You shouldn't make too big of a deal out of four spring training innings, but the process appeared steady, providing me with optimism for Mikolas' regular season.
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