Freeman hones off-speed grip over winter break

JUPITER, Fla. -- After left biceps tendinitis shortened his stay in the Arizona Fall League, Sam Freeman was instructed to alter his offseason throwing plans. The Cardinals proposed that instead of resuming a throwing program in mid-November (Freeman's typical start time), he not pick up a baseball until late December.

Freeman adhered to the suggestion. Well, kind of.

While Freeman agreed to not resume throwing until the final days of 2012, he picked up a baseball long before then. In fact, he hardly put it down.

At the suggestion of Nick Sawyer, a 2012 Rays draftee who went through the same high school baseball program as Freeman, the Cardinals lefty adopted a new pitch. Freeman had struggled to develop an effective breaking ball, so he turned to Sawyer's go-to off-speed pitch: a knuckle-curveball.

The grip was initially uncomfortable, so Freeman decided he'd make it natural by walking around holding a baseball. The pair went all sorts of places together.

"I figured I didn't have anything else to do," Freeman said. "So outside of eating, I would carry a ball around and work on the grip."

Freeman, like the Cardinals, is curious as to how the pitch will play out in game situations. Thus far, Freeman has only thrown it in side sessions. Still, the early reviews of the knuckle-curve were positive.

"It was very, very good," manager Mike Matheny said. "He cleaned up his mechanics to where they're more repeatable now. He took a step forward this winter."

"To win a spot, I'm going to have to show that I can use the pitch," Freeman added. "I'm going to have to be aggressive in my approach with everything that I do."

While Freeman could elevate his standing in the organization by showing command of the new breaking pitch, he will still have a tough task breaking into the Cardinals' Opening Day bullpen. The bullpen got crowded with the offseason addition of Randy Choate, who gives the club the second lefty it desired behind Marc Rzepczynski. It seems unlikely that the Cardinals would have a need for a third.