(Busch Stadium) Back in January at the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up, reliever Jordan Hicks shared that he wanted to be more than just a guy who can throw 105 miles per hour. Not that he didn’t appreciate his velocity–or people’s fascination with it, but he wanted to evolve into a more complete pitcher. A little over a month into 2019, it looks like he is well on his way.
“Last year, I threw a high percentage of fastballs and I relied on it a lot because my slider wasn’t there, because I didn’t have the split change that I have now,” Hicks said. “I do throw hard, so I can’t expect anything less from people but at the same time I’ve shown that I can throw off-speed and mix in other pitches besides just my fastball.”
“It’s fun to watch,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “You look at a talented young man like himself, with the outlier fastball and he’s also got two other pitches that are outliers as well. To put that combination of three together, we’re happy to have him. We’re glad we get to watch it first hand.”
The velocity is still there as per Statcast, Hicks has thrown the fastest pitch in MLB this season at 104.2 mile per hour and his name dominates the rest of the list. But he’s also showing the confidence in his slider and split change.
“The same as my fastball,” Hicks confirmed. “I want to throw everything like my fastball because if it’s all coming out of the same slot with the same intent, it’s going to be harder for the hitters to hit.”
“I think it settled in last year a little bit,” Maddux said. “He got stubborn with the fastball. It was cool, everybody talked about it but the more he threw his slider, the more success he had with it and the more he began to like it.”
So what kind of advice or guidance initiated the inclusion of a wider pitching arsenal?
“As you would tell a young man, with your slider the more you throw it the more you’re going to throw it because the more you’re going to like it,” Maddux said. “With your split, the more you throw it the more you’re going to throw it because you’ll like it. Sometimes we get caught up in this ‘I’ve got to get beat with my best pitch’. Why can’t they all three be your best pitch? Why can’t both of them be your best pitch? This goes with everybody. We can’t set there and separate all of our pitches one, two, three, and four. They should all be co-number ones or maybe you have three number ones and a second pitch. We have to elevate our pitches because to sit back and say I don’t want to get beat without my best stuff, you might be shortchanging yourself.”
A recent matchup against Bryce Harper was a prime example of the evolution of Hicks. While he did show off the 100mph velocity, it was up and out of the zone. Harper swung and missed three times–on sliders that topped out at 90mph.
“That was a great battle,” Yadier Molina acknowledged afterwards. “He threw some good sliders, Harper was swinging hard. It was fun to see that.”
“I know he can hit a fastball,” Hicks said. “It didn’t mean anything more that it was my slider. I have the same expectations with all of my pitches, to throw where I want to throw it and get a swing and miss or weak contact. It wasn’t about throwing sliders to him because of the matchup, it was just about getting him out. If it was a different lefty or anybody else, it probably would’ve been the same thing.”
With nine saves, Hicks is tied for the fifth most saves in the National League. He has struck out 20 batters while walking six in 14.1 innings for a strikeout ratio of 3.33 as compared to last year’s 1.56.
“This guy has talent,” Molina continued. “He has a great arm, but he’s trying to be a pitcher. Instead of throwing the ball 104, he wants to strike out guys with his slider and wants to be a pitcher.”
“I’ve seen a lot less of a batter just taking, waiting for me to throw a strike,” Hicks said. “Last year, they could do that. I’d probably throw three straight balls and then have to work my way back into the count. Why would they swing? Now I feel like they have to treat me like a real pitcher and take me seriously.”
photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports