Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 3/7/12
JUPITER, Fla. - Cardinals minor league lefty R.J. Swindle peeks back at the radar gun just like most other pitchers when on the mound. But he's hoping for a much different result. While most dream of reaching triple digits or throwing in the high 90's, Swindle aims to break the 50 MPH barrier. And not over it. Under it. The crafty lefty possesses a swooping curveball that floats up to the plate about as slow as possible - clocked in his first appearance Monday as slow as 54 MPH. "That was actually a little hard, 54 is a little harder than I want it," Swindle said. "I think I got it down to 48 MPH last year. I wanted to break the 50 barrier the opposite way and I did. It's a fun pitch to throw. "I haven't really seen many, if anyone, get it down as low as I can." Swindle enters his first year in the Cardinals organization after spending the past two seasons with the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. The 28-year-old has nine career big league appearances, three with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 and six with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009. A 14th round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2004, Swindle has also pitched in the Yankees and Indians organizations and has made three different stops in the Independent League. The first time Swindle threw the pitch was his first year of professional baseball with the Red Sox in 2004. Done as an experiment, the lefty quickly found out that he might be on to something. "I threw one and it ended up drilling the guy in the chest but he had swung through it already," Swindle said. "The crowd liked it a lot and stuff, and ever since then, I realized it's a tough pitch to wait back on, a tough pitch to see and react too. Similar to that of a knuckleballer, Swindle finds himself as a rare commodity. His fastball barely breaks 80 MPH - the speed of most big league curveballs. He's the definition of a pitcher, getting hitters out by messing with their timing. He struck out two hitters Monday on 82 MPH fastballs that froze them looking. "I don't throw hard like any of these guys," Swindle said. "Being able to throw that curve with an 82 MPH fastball, I'm able to mess with them with the slow pitches." The left-handed Swindle aims to throw his floating curveball as slow as possible, hoping to get it below 50 MPH. With the pitch about 40 MPH slower than the average big league fastball, hitters often have no idea what to do. "Usually it's a big strikeout pitch for me," Swindle said. "Hitters don't like it. They can't hit it. My buddy is on the Marlins and they were all unhappy that I got in the game. And that's good because that pitch messes with their minds a lot and that already puts me one step ahead of the game. "The tricky part is not giving it away and stuff. I've been able to kind of master it over the last 9 years in pro ball to not give it away to much. A lot of guys ask me how I throw it and I can't really tell them one easy trick, but I try to keep my motion looking the same and that helps with the deceptiveness." And the results have been impressive. Swindle has a career 2.37 ERA in 252 minor league games. He his more strikeouts (496) than hits allowed (417) in 493 23 innings. He's allowed just 26 home runs and 106 walks. He pitched a hitless inning Monday against the Marlins in his first appearance, striking out two and walking one. "It's pretty slow," said manager Mike Matheny. "It's pretty slow, but he was effective. It's all about deception and having that in your repertoire certainly makes you think about it because those guys don't want to look silly on it. It was effective. "He knows who he is and he knows what stuff he has. I think he did a good job of using it properly because after he floated some change-ups and threw that real slow one, he had a couple balls that looked a lot harder than the gun said they were. That's pitching, breaking up the hitters timing." With Marc Rzepczynski and J.C. Romero expected to man the left side of the bullpen in St. Louis, Swindle signed with the Cardinals this offseason to provide them depth at Triple-A Memphis. But that hasn't changed his goal of someday making a return to the big leagues. And he hopes his deceptive curveball helps him make that happen. "I'm just excited about getting the opportunity here and I think so far I've gotten it," Swindle said. "I'm looking to get in a lot more games here this spring and prove that I can help them out at the major league level. "I got some chances with the Phillies and Brewers and didn't exactly stick but lefty's are a valuable commodity and I'm hoping to get another chance. So far, so good. It was a good start."
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