(BaseballStL) -- Michael Wacha has gone from an exciting prospect to a terrifying force on the mound in a blink of an eye.
After bouncing back and forth between AAA Memphis and St. Louis early in 2013, the Texas A&M grad came up to stay; closing the season with a 8.2 inning no-hitter and throwing a one-hitter through 7.1 innings against the Pirates in an postseason elimination setting.
Now he will start Game 2 of the NLCS opposite the class of the National League, Clayton Kershaw.
"It's going to be unbelievable facing that guy," Wacha said Friday. " As a pitcher, I think any of our pitchers you just try not to pay attention too much to who is pitching on the other side. Our job is to go out there up and throw up zeros as much as we can. I think that's going to be the main goal in this series."
Neither Wacha nor Game 1's starter Joe Kelly were in the rotation to start the season, and both debuted in the postseason on the road. The pair each got their second start in a friendlier environment, getting to pitch in front of the crowd at Busch Stadium to start the NLCS.
"I'm definitely looking forward to pitching in front of this home crowd," Wacha said in the clubhouse. "It's gonna be fun. It's been a while since I've pitched in front of them."
In fact, the 22-year-old hasn't taken the mound at home since September 24 when he carried a no-hitter to the final out of the game.
After nearly repeating the performance against Pittsburgh, it would seem Wacha's notoriety would have skyrocketed. To hear the budding star tell it, fans will still be far more interested in the pitcher in blue Saturday.
"Nothing has really changed too much," he said. "I still go to Target, go to the grocery store. Nobody really notices me or anything like that. So it's been pretty nice. But nothing has really changed."
The Cardinals treated Wacha carefully in 2013, limiting his appearances both in St. Louis and Memphis. While many young pitchers find themselves speeding toward a shutdown to end their first season, Wacha's handling has allowed him factor into postseason pitching as a full-fledged member of the rotation.
"It's been nice. I mean, I definitely wanted the ball while I was down in Memphis. I didn't like just sitting around. But I used that time off to work on the bullpens, work on the curveball, work on my command. I think it's helped out quite a bit."
Despite the restlessness, Wacha appreciates the care the organization took with him. He was particularly effusive in his praise for manager Mike Matheny.
"I think he cares more about how we are as people off the field than players on the field," he said. "I don't think I would want to play for any other guy. He really looks out for our best interests, and I think that's important as a player."
Wacha faces a potent Dodger attack Saturday, and despite never pitching against them, the young star has a healthy amount of respect for the Los Angeles offense.
"You have to be careful with their whole lineup," It's a powerful lineup, very dangerous, and so I think to be successful you've got to be able to make your pitches and execute pitches down in the zone or else you can't make too many mistakes against these guys because they can hurt you pretty good."
First pitch will be at 3:07 pm.