The Springfield Cardinals opened a 12-game road trip on Tuesday night in Tulsa and won’t return to Hammons Field until May 23 when they play host to Wichita.
Even though the team’s homestand concluded with a loss on Sunday to Arkansas, the Cardinals are playing improved baseball. They won four of six against the Travelers, and had captured seven of their last nine, to climb to 13-14 overall after a 6-12 first three weeks of the season.
One of the reasons for improved results is right-handed pitcher Brandon Komar. A newcomer to the organization in 2023, after being signed as a minor-league free agent over the winter after four seasons in the San Diego Padres system, Komar was the Texas League Pitcher of the Week for April 24-30. Covering two starts, he pitched 11 scoreless innings, allowing one walk and striking out nine.
Ignoring velo, focusing on location and timing
Komar, 24, won’t be found on top-prospect lists because he doesn’t throw 100 miles per hour. He has to rely on control, movement and smarts to get batters out.
“The biggest thing for me is keeping the ball down,” Komar said after a recent Hammons Field start. “Creating movement with my pitches and keeping hitters off-balance is a key. I try my best to never let them get timed up on the same pitch. Keeping their timing off is the biggest key for me.”
Komar — a 13th-round selection by the Padres out of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, in the 2019 draft — said he rarely looks at or worries about his velocity readings but said he normally tops out at about 89.
“I don’t pay much attention to that,” Komar said. “You can compete with that, especially with movement and command, the biggest thing I focus on.”
Fitting in with the Cardinal way
If Komar needs someone to model his game after, he can look at 41-year-old St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching icon Adam Wainwright. Before his injury rehab start last month with the Springfield Cardinals, Wainwright spoke to the Springfield pitchers about mental approach.
The words resonated with Komar, whose style is already a lot like Wainwright’s over the last few years as his velocity tailed off. He’s been able to remain one of the big-league Cardinals’ mainstays despite the lack of an above-average fastball.
“Especially now his velo is down, but you can see how he still competes, man,” Komar said. “The velo is not everything. It’s nice, but if you can do your thing and you can put the ball where you want it, you can compete at any level.
“He’s a great guy to look at while he’s pitching and look to as a mentor as you look for information about the game in general.”
Coming to a new organization has been an eye-opening experience for Komar, who was 11-12 in four seasons pitching in the minors for the Padres. He posted a 5-4 record in 14 starts last season for Texas League member San Antonio.
“It was a big change,” Komar said of the transition. “Leaving all my guys back in San Diego was tough, because it’s a big change. But it’s exciting because it’s a good opportunity for me. I was very excited to come to the Cardinals. It’s a great organization and they do a lot of great things for their players.”
Komar said the Cardinals haven’t made any drastic changes with his pitching mechanics, but the philosophy of pitching to contact and seeking ground balls seems to be a good match.
“The way I pitch fits in very well with their philosophy. I think it’s great,” Komar said.
Manager calls Komar a ‘strike thrower and a smart pitcher’
Springfield manager Jose Leger describes Komar as a tough competitor.
“He’s a strike thrower and a smart pitcher. He works the corners, has a sinker and a good changeup,” Leger said. “Everything he throws kind of goes down and hitters are probably gonna put the ball in play, but it is gonna be a lot of soft-contact and grounders. You have to play defense behind him.”
Throwing strikes is something Komar knows he has to do better than in his two starts in last week’s homestand against Arkansas. During his start on May 2, he took a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning but issued a walk ahead of a game-tying home run.
In his next start on Sunday in the series finale, he walked three Arkansas batters in five innings while surrendering five runs. Opponents are hitting only .209 against Komar, but the walks have been a direct link to trouble.
Prep between starts is important
Komar’s next start is tentatively scheduled for Saturday in Tulsa with his next Hammons Field start possibly coming on May 24 in the second game of a homestand against Wichita.
“Early, I thought I attacked really well,” Komar said of the May 2 start. “The biggest thing was the walk before the home run. That hurt us there. I really have to focus on being better in those situations.
“The biggest thing is my prep in between starts and really focusing on what I need to do, coming up for my next outings,” he said. “Just preparing for hitters, how I want to approach and attack and stick to that plan come game day. Then it’s a matter of going out and doing it.”
Next Springfield Cardinals homestand
May 23 — vs. Wichita Wind Surge, 6:35 p.m. ($2 hot dogs and brats)
May 24 — vs. Wichita Wind Surge, 6:35 p.m. (Woof Wednesday)
May 25 — vs. Wichita Wind Surge, 7:05 p.m. (Thirsty Thursday)
May 26 — vs. Wichita Wind Surge, 7:05 p.m. (Friday Night Fireworks)
May 27 — vs. Wichita Wind Surge, 6:35 p.m. (Yadier Molina bobblehead giveaway)
May 28 — vs. Wichita Wind Surge, 6:05 p.m. (Fans-on-Field Fireworks)