(BaseballStL) – Michael Wacha has been intensely watched since the Cardinals took him in the first round in the 2012 draft.
The 22-year-old impressed at Texas A&M, and since entering the minors, has torn through competition on his way to the bigs.
Wacha’s debut came on May 30 when an injury-riddled rotation opened doors for young arms to get experience. He made two more starts during his first stop on the majors, netting his first win against the Mets on June 11.
His second trip to St. Louis saw a spot start against the Cubs to spell Adam Wainwright. Now, the Cardinals are exploring a more permanent home for their former 19th overall pick- the bullpen.
“He’s throwing the ball as good as anybody we’ve got, and we want to go with our best right now,” said Mike Matheny.
By using Wacha to spell fellow young arms in relief, the club will be able to monitor his innings and workload while maximizing his impact on the field.
“We’re still putting together what that back end looks like,” Matheny said. “Using his stuff, even pithcing him later innings too. For him to come in and feature what he’s got one time through or three outs- he could be used in a number of different ways.”
The role will be new for Wacha, something Matheny acknowledged before Tuesday’s game.
While last year’s tail end combo of Mujica, Boggs and Motte was as routine as the setting sun, this season’s late innings have been a bit of a mix and match. Following Tuesday’s marathon session that saw extra innings of work for Mujica and Seth Maness, it would seem likely Wacha would see action Wednesday night.
Mujica and Rosenthal have laid claim to the final two innings throughout the season, but other innings have been serviced by a cadre of green relievers and Randy Choate. With Shelby Miller featured Wednesday and averaging 5.5 innings per start, a fast-warmup artist like Wacha will be on high alert for relief.
The young starter has not thrown back-to-back days in recent years- if ever- and his performance in the role will be watched closely by the staff.
“If that’s the role he’s going to be in, then we’re going to have to eventually put him in a position where he’s going to throw back to back,” Matheny said.
Wacha has not appeared in relief at all in 2013, starting 15 games in Memphis and four in St. Louis. In Springfield, he appeared in eight innings of relief, striking out 17 and allowing one run.