By: Derrick Goold
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — For those pitchers not sporting an overpowering fastball, one of the fundamental tenets of Pitching According to Dave Duncan is having a pitch that can be thrown for a strike low in the zone and has movement on it. Often that pitch is a two-seam fastball, or a “sinker”. Almost all of the St. Louis Cardinals’ starters have one and flaunt it.

Joel Pineiro has learned this spring to embrace his.

The righthander threw primarily sinkers as he worked four innings in a 9-7 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday at the Charlotte Sports Complex. Pineiro allowed six hits and two runs, while walking one and striking out. Universally, the Cardinals said Pineiro didn’t have his best stuff, didn’t have his best command and didn’t have his best outing of spring. Yet, on a day that manager Tony La Russa described as “playing on a concrete highway with the wind blowing out”, Pineiro held the aggressive Rays to two runs. The reason?

The sinker.

Pineiro got 11 groundballs (nine for outs) from the Rays, and a handful of the base hits he allowed were on the ground. Two of the four-seam fastballs he threw were tattooed for doubles. That reinforced the concept that Duncan has tried to stress to Pineiro this spring. He has a sinker. Use it.

“That’s been the goal of the spring. Trust it. Throw it,” Pineiro said. “That’s the thing I’ve been trying to do the (past few starts). This year it’s throw it, throw it, throw it.”

When Pineiro came to the Cardinals late in the 2007 season, he had both a two-seam fastball and a four-seam fastball. He would use his changeup as a pitch to coax a groundball, preferring to stay about from a sinker he didn’t trust. Say he’d get into a bind or behind in the count — well that was what the four-seam fastball was for. He knew he could count on it.

That’s where he wants the sinker to be when the Cardinals leave Jupiter. On Thursday, Pineiro fell behind in the counts and was able to trust in the sinker — like Chris Carpenter did the day before — to get him out of the jam.

“Big change for me this year,” Pineiro said. “Throw it and trust it.”

Speaking of trust: Closer candidate Jason Motte continued gaining trust from the coaching staff with a four-out save. He entered the game with the go-ahead run at the plate in the eighth and then pitched the ninth with the tying run at the plate. Motte struck out two and walked his first batter of spring as he secured his third save. But the numbers don’t do justice to the outing. In the ninth, Motte faced Ben Zobrist, who had been the best hitter in the game with three hits already. Motte froze him for strike three after using his slider to set up the fastball. Motte threw a tight, caught first-pitch slider for a strike on the final batter. He then got him to groundout to end the game.

In relief of Brad Thompson in the eighth, Motte faced Ray Olmedo as the go-ahead runner. Motte flat gassed him. The Cardinals candidate for closer blew a fastball by him for a strike out to end the inning.

Announced outfielder Ryan Ludwick as he came into the clubhouse: “Motte just threw a pitch about a billion to punch a guy out.”