(Updated June 5, 2014)
Pat Neshek might be the most interesting newcomer on the 2014 Opening Day Cardinals roster.
Signed as a free agent in February 2014 and invited to spring training, Neshek, 33, appeared to be a longshot to earn a spot on a staff loaded with strong, young arms. The right-hander with the mesmerizing sidearm delivery beat the odds by performing well in exhibition games (11 strikeouts in 8.1 innings and a 3.24 ERA) and joining left-handed counterpart Randy Choate in providing a veteran presence.
Though 2014 represents Neshek’s eighth big-league season, his Cardinals connections are few and he may be a relatively unfamiliar figure to many St. Louis fans.
Here are 10 things you should know about Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek:
1. Sidearm story
Neshek threw from over the top throughout his prep career at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
In his final high school game, he was hit in the right wrist by a pitch. The pain caused Neshek to alter his throwing style.
“I spent that whole summer (1999) playing only shortstop and throwing from the side,” Neshek said to Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2006. “When I got to Butler University, I was pitching sidearm and the coach (Steve Farley) said, ‘What’s this?’ We tried to get my delivery back on top. The wrist hurt too much.
“After a month, the coach said, ‘You have good movement on your pitches from down there and not many pitchers throw like that. You might as well stick with it.”
2. Brooklyn Park pride
Neshek was born in Madison, Wis., but spent most of his youth in Brooklyn Park.
A leafy northwest suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Brooklyn Park also was the home of humorist and author Garrison Keillor.
The mayor of Brooklyn Park from 1991-95 was Jesse Ventura, the professional wrestler and actor who served as Minnesota governor from 1999-2003.
3. Butler Bulldogs
Neshek is the last Butler University player to be selected in the major-league amateur draft and the only one drafted from the Indianapolis school to reach the big leagues.
4. Sixth-round ties
Neshek signed with the Twins in June 2002 after he was chosen by them in the sixth round of that year’s June amateur draft.
Also taken in the sixth round that year were three other future Cardinals: left-handed pitcher Troy Cate by the Mariners, infielder Brian Barden by the Diamondbacks and left-handed pitcher Barret Browning by the Red Sox.
(The Cardinals’ selection in that round, third baseman Cody Haerther, never reached the big leagues.)
5. Linked with Lohse
In his major-league debut on July 7, 2006, at Arlington, Texas, Neshek relieved another future Cardinals pitcher, Kyle Lohse. Boxscore
Neshek had been promoted to the Twins as a replacement for pitcher Boof Bonser. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had wanted to promote Neshek from Rochester a month earlier, but general manager Terry Ryan overruled, calling up Lohse instead.
6. Cardinals crusher
Neshek was the winning pitcher for the Padres against the Cardinals in the 2011 season opener at St. Louis.
In his National League debut, Neshek pitched a scoreless 10th, even though he walked two. After he walked Colby Rasmus, Neshek got Albert Pujols to ground into a double play. He walked Matt Holliday before inducing Allen Craig to fly out to right.
When the Padres scored twice in the 11th and won, 5-3, Neshek had his first major-league win since 2007. Boxscore
7. Solved by Adams
Neshek faced the Cardinals most recently on June 29, 2013, while with the Athletics.
After retiring the Cardinals in order in the seventh _ Yadier Molina flied out and Craig and Carlos Beltran struck out _ Neshek got Holliday to ground out to start the eighth. Then Matt Adams hit a home run, his second of the game. Boxscore
Neshek yielded six home runs in 40.1 innings in 2013. Four were to left-handed batters. (Pujols and Rasmus hit two of the six.)
Right-handed batters have hit .181 versus Neshek in the big leagues. Left-handed batters have a .237 average against him.
8. First save
Neshek pitched in 255 big-league games, all in relief, before earning his first save on June 4, 2014, for the Cardinals against the Royals. Boxscore
In nine seasons in the minor leagues, Neshek earned 97 saves.
9. No hits
Neshek is listed as a switch hitter. But he never has had a plate appearance or an at-bat in seven seasons in the big leagues.
10. No errors
Neshek never has committed an error in the big leagues. He has handled 27 chances flawlessly over 214.1 innings played.
Base runners have been successful on 12 of 18 stolen base attempts against him in his major-league career. That’s a caught-stealing rate of 33 percent.