Ryan Loutos has gone from undrafted free agent out of Division III Washington University in St. Louis to closing games for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. (Photo: J.P. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

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When Freddy Pacheco and his nine saves were promoted to Triple-A recently, Ryan Loutos slid into the high-leverage bullpen role and has excelled for the Springfield Cardinals.

Loutos has three saves in three opportunities, just the latest example of how the 23-year-old, one-time Chicago Cubs fan is making the most of his professional baseball chance in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

“My goal on a day-to-day basis is to just be the best I can be,” Loutos said Tuesday before Springfield’s homestand opener against the Wichita Wind Surge at Hammons Field.

“However well I end up doing is how I end up doing,” Loutos said. “As long as I put my best foot forward, I’m going to be satisfied with the results.”

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Loutos certainly has the ability to put baseball in the proper perspective. It’s a game that he loves and always has since growing up in Barrington, Illinois, near Chicago.

Wash-U a great fit

Coming out of high school, he was academically a high-achiever but didn’t necessarily have a fastball velocity to match his SAT score. Dreams of attending Stanford or Cal-Berkeley, for books and baseball, did not materialize.

Loutos instead wound up at Washington University in St. Louis, a tremendous academic institution also with high-level athletics, albeit on the Division III level.

“My goal was to go to a high-academic college and give myself a chance,” Loutos said. “You never know what will happen today, let alone tomorrow, let alone in four years.”

Loutos said Wash-U gave him a great academic fit and an opportunity to be a starting pitcher right away. During a four-year career, he compiled an 18-5 record with 287 strikeouts in 230 innings. He helped the Bears earn their first trip to the Division III World Series.

At the same time, he earned a degree in computer science and was named a first-team D-III All-American.

During his time in college, he started attending Cardinals games at Busch Stadium and said he was “amazed at how cool that area was and how cool Busch Stadium is.”

“I never realized the history the Cardinals had and going to school at Wash-U for four years, I got to appreciate all those things.”

From Cubs fan to Cardinals farmhand

Little did the one-time Cubs fans know the Cardinals would give him a chance to live his professional baseball dream, signing him as an undrafted free agent one year ago. He said a Cardinals representative called him during the 18th round of the draft and said the team would not draft him, but planned to offer him a $20,000 contract after the 20-round draft’s conclusion.

That was about one-quarter of what Loutos was set to earn, with a computer coding job at a firm in the Chicago area. But Loutos didn’t think twice about which route to take.

“I’ve got the rest of my life to work and do all those other things,” Loutos said. “So many people don’t get a chance to do this and pursue a career in professional baseball. I was just grateful to get a chance.”

Now he’s making the most of it, with a fastball in the mid-90s his bread-and-butter pitch, mixing in a slider and occasional curve to close out games.

He earned a promotion to Springfield in mid-May, after saving four games in six appearances for High-A Peoria. He’s 1-1 with the three saves and a 1.61 ERA for Springfield, striking out 26 while issuing 10 walks.

Loutos closed out Tuesday night’s 12-8 victory over Wichita with a hitless ninth inning. The Cardinals scored eight runs in the eighth inning to take the lead and win their seventh straight game.

“Having Loutos coming in at the back end of the bullpen and coming into tough situations and getting it done, he has been good,” Springfield manager Jose Leger said. “Obviously, he has the stuff to do that, but you must have the demeanor. He has that.

“He has been able to control the situation, not get caught up in the moment or get too excited. He just goes and attacks hitters with good stuff and does so by throwing strikes and there is value to that.”

Trusting himself and his stuff

Loutos said the toughest part of being a closer is the anticipation that builds toward the ninth inning.

“When I get out there, I usually feel pretty good,” he said. “For me, it’s sitting out there in that sixth, seventh, eighth inning and kind of visualizing positive results.

“It’s also about not making the moment too big and trusting my stuff. It’s knowing that my stuff is good enough, that I’m a good enough pitcher that I can close this game out. I know it’s not going to be a good result every time, but if I have that trust it’s going to pan out more times than not.”

Trusting his college choice and career path helped get him this far. Leger said late-round or undrafted players have a hunger that highly touted prospects sometimes don’t. It can serve them well.

Loutos clearly believes in himself, while not having a fear of failure.

“When you are not a big-time prospect or you weren’t drafted or were drafted in a low round, you always have that chip on your shoulder,” Leger said. “You feel there is no room for mistakes. Having that pressure or responsibility or that challenge, it is added pressure that some players know how to embrace and he is embracing it.”

Cardinals homestand at a glance

The Springfield Cardinals opened a six-game series against the Wichita Wind Surge, an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, on Tuesday night at Hammons Field. A look at the games:

  • Tuesday: Cardinals 12, Wind Surge 8. Malcom Nunez hit two home runs, including a tie-breaking grand slam, as Springfield scored eight runs in the eighth inning for a seventh straight victory. 
  • Wednesday: 6:35 p.m. (Woof Wednesday)
  • Thursday: 7:05 p.m. (Thirsty Thursday, Ted Simmons Bobblehead Giveaway for first 2,000 fans)
  • Friday: 7:05 p.m. (Rockin’ in America post-game fireworks)
  • Saturday: 6:35 p.m. (Kids’ Pop-It Giveaway, post-game fireworks)
  • Sunday: 5:25 p.m. (Sequel Dose post-game concert, Hiland Ice Cream Sunday, Fans on Field post-game fireworks)

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Missouri Sports Hall of Famer, Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton