Cardinals now embracing elevation

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The Cardinals have, for a while, been known as the ground ball team. Many a pitcher has joined the pitching staff, told to induce grounders, and enjoyed immense success as a result. Joel Pineiro is one example; Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia others. Since 2009, the Cardinals have ranked second, first, first, and and third in ground ball rate by starting pitchers, according to FanGraphs. The ground ball approach was implemented by former pitching coach Dave Duncan and continued by new manager Mike Matheny.

Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals are evolving, focusing back on the upper part of the strike zone for some of their pitchers.

But during spring training and already during the regular season, manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist have asked several starters to explore a neglected area of the strike zone — the high-rise, where strikeouts happen.

A few are being encouraged to embrace elevation.

“We still preach (low). We’re still all over that,” Matheny said. “But part of that philosophy is when you get two strikes how do we put the guy away right now? What do you do when you’re throwing at the bottom of the zone all the time? You’ve got to have something to put somebody away with. That elevated fastball can help with that. It’s an art. Because you’re flirting with danger. That’s why it’s effective. It’s something they have to practice.”

Last year, the Cardinals threw the fewest percentage of pitches in the upper part of the strike zone with two strikes, under 21 percent. The league average was 28 percent. The Cardinals led in two-strike pitches in the lower part of the strike zone with two strikes at 51.5 percent. The league average was 45 percent.

Blue Jays acquire Randal Grichuk from the Cardinals

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The Blue Jays announced on Friday that the club acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk from the Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Dominic Leone and minor league pitcher Conner Greene.

Grichuk, 26, became expendable when the Cardinals acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. With veteran Dexter Fowler in right field and Tommy Pham — who finished 11th in NL MVP Award balloting last season — in center, Grichuk was effectively pushed to the bench. He will get a shot at regular playing time in an outfield corner with the Jays. Grichuk has had solid numbers since debuting in 2014, but he hasn’t been able to recapture the magic of his 2015 campaign. Last year, he hit .238/.285/.473 with 22 home runs and 59 RBI in 442 plate appearances.

Grichuk will earn $2.8 million this season and will be eligible for arbitration for two more years before becoming a free agent.

Leone, 26, posted an impressive 2.56 ERA with an 81/23 K/BB ratio across 70 1/3 innings last season. The right-hander will earn $1.085 million this season and then will become arbitration-eligible for the next three years. Leone certainly helps bolster the Cardinals’ bullpen and may work his way up to high-leverage innings behind closer Luke Gregerson.

Greene, 22, was selected by the Blue Jays in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. This past season, with Double-A New Hampshire, Greene compiled a 5.29 ERA with a 92/83 K/BB ratio in 132 2/3 innings. He throws hard, but control has been a big issue for the right-hander throughout his minor league career. The Cardinals may think they can help turn him around.