JUPITER, Fla. • Whether his young son was close to attaining his black belt in taekwondo, playing the right or left wings in soccer or guard in basketball, John Charles Gant had one request that still resonates with his son.
No matter what the younger John Michael Gant was doing, whether in sports, school or daily life, the advice was consistent.
“He always used to tell me, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it right,’” said Cardinals righthander John Gant. “No matter what it is, if you’re going to do, it just do it right.”
That request has stuck with Gant, who could help the Cardinals as a starter or out of the bullpen as a long reliever.
With a fastball that sits around 93 mph and a solid changeup and curveball, Gant is an important insurance policy for the Cardinals this spring because of his versatility and professionalism.
If one of the five starters is injured or too ineffective to remain in the rotation, especially before May, Gant could be the next man up if top prospect Jack Flaherty needs more seasoning at Class AAA Memphis.
“You always have to have those pitchers that can fill that potential starting role and can also have the big enough arm to come and help you in the ’pen,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s coming out here and competing.”
Gant is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA with an impressive 10 strikeouts and only one walk in 8 1/3 innings over three outings this spring. He held the Orioles to one run while striking out seven over three innings of relief on Feb. 28.
Gant returned to the mound Wednesday in relief of Adam Wainwright at Roger Dean Stadium, where he held the Nationals to one run on five hits with one strikeout in 3 1/3 innings.
Gant, who was acquired from the Braves along with two other minor-leaguers on Dec. 1, 2016, in exchange for Jaime Garcia, is taking full advantage of his second big league camp with the Cardinals.
He is building on a solid 2017 at Memphis, where he was 6-5 with a 3.83 ERA over 18 starts and 103 1/3 innings. He was also 0-1 with a 4.67 ERA over seven games (two starts) and 17 1/3 innings during a brief period in the majors with the Cardinals.
He is 1-5 with a 4.81 ERA in 27 big league appearances over parts of two seasons in the majors with the Braves and the Cardinals.
He isn’t working on any specific pitch this spring as much as he’s trying to improve his four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball.
“I just want to be fine with each one,” he said. “I want to home in on everything.”
Gant struck out 99 and walked only 25 last season at Memphis, but he issued 10 walks while striking out only 11 during his brief time in the majors with the Cardinals. He must lower his walks and hits per nine innings (WHIP) in the majors from 1.558 to closer to the 1.297 WHIP he posted at Memphis.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Gant essentially averaged four strikeouts for every walk at Memphis. He could take the next step in his development if he can duplicate that command in the majors because he cannot afford to average 5.2 walks per nine innings, as he did last season with the Cardinals.
He has had an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first three appearances this spring so far. Now it’s just a matter of building on this camp and proving that he can succeed consistently in the majors.
“I think he’s proven everything he’s needed to prove at the Triple-A level,” Matheny said. “It’s just (about determining) how is he going to be able to fit here. He’s having a real nice spring so far. He’s definitely opened our eyes. Not that we needed to see more, but it’s just good to see he’s making some progressions.”
You can never have too many pitchers like Gant. He may even be more valuable to the Cardinals this spring as Miles Mikolas is off to a rough Grapefruit League start.
If the Cardinals decide that Flaherty still needs more innings at Memphis, they can use Gant as the first starter called up if a member of the five-man rotation falters or is injured before May. He could also play an important role as a long reliever while Mikolas settles back into the major leagues after three years pitching in Japan.
It’s important to remember that he was in line to earn a spot on the opening day roster last year if he had not been injured in camp. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if he earns a spot on the opening day roster this month.
“I feel comfortable in any role,” he said. “I’ve been a starter my whole life, so I guess I like to be a starter best, but I think the ’pen suits me. I just want to play, man.”
Beyond his pitching repertoire, Gant draws praise from Matheny and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak for the way he goes about his business.
Management never has to worry about Gant. He’s dependable and a true professional. He was disciplined enough to earn his black belt by the time he was 11 or 12. He cannot remember the exact age. It doesn’t matter. That accomplishment is impressive at any age, but even more so at such an early age.
He was blessed to have his father as his coach in several sports as a kid. Even now at big league camp, Gant carries his father’s advice with him daily.
“I do things right,” he said.
Jose de Jesus Ortiz
@OrtizKicks on Twitter