ST. LOUIS — John Mozeliak said his club’s 11th-hour move would simply be to get healthy. In a week, improving health has allowed them to make two vital additions; bringing Yadier Molina off the DL Friday, and announcing Tuesday Michael Wacha will return to start against Milwaukee on Thursday.
The pitching phenom has been on the DL since June 18 with a stress reaction in his shoulder and will take the hill in the series opener after a brief rehab start in Double-A.
“I was thinking after that start in Tulsa maybe I’d be up here. I didn’t know if it was going to be in the bullpen or in the rotation, but always thinking that in your head that it could be one of those possibilities,” Wacha said on the field before the game with Pittsburgh. “When he came up to me about it I was all in.”
The 23-year-old was approached by GM John Mozeliak Tuesday and asked what he thought of starting against the Brewers. He is coming off a rehab start that saw him go two scoreless innings on 34 pitches, striking out one and allowing one hit.
“I knew it might have been in consideration. I didn’t know if they were going to do it or not, but I’m really happy with it. I’m looking forward to Thursday for sure,” Wacha said.
With Justin Masterson’s recent move to the bullpen, the Cardinals could sorely use stability in their rotation. In first place alone for the first time all season, St. Louis’ series against the Brewers could determine which club holds the cards through the final month.
“He had a good outing last time, came back and measured up yesterday and today very strong,” Mike Matheny said. “We’ve made no question about the fact that if he’s ready to go on the mound we want him.”
Wacha’s next step was to throw somewhere between 50 and 60 pitches, and Mozeliak said it made more sense for the Cardinals to have those pitches to come during MLB action than trying to find space in AAA for him.
“I think his resume speaks for itself. When he’s throwing he can be dominant. Frankly, he’s very fresh,” the GM said. “We’ll be smart about this. If he’s struggling or it doesn’t look like it’s working, we’ll be able to pull the plug.”
Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons are both able to provide long relief support for Wacha, with Gonzales the likely candidate as he was scheduled to throw Thursday.
The former Aggie is reportedly in tremendous shape, using the rehab and conditioning work to further strengthen his lower body and shoulder.
Mozeliak also added the club felt there was less risk of re-injuring his shoulder in a starting role than if they pushed him into relief work.
Wacha said Tuesday he feels like his velocity is where it needs to be, but there are still hurdles to clear before he’s back to 100 percent.
“Command is still on it’s way with off speed pitches and everything,” he said. “Other than that, I felt like the [velocity] was there and everything else will definitely come for sure.”
There are no plans for medical evaluations for Wacha until after the season, assuming he remains asymptomatic, something that no doubt makes preparing for starts easier.
“It’ll be nice to not have that checkup every two weeks and not be in an MRI machine,” he said. “It’s nice that those are done and I can come out here and stay focused on pitching.”
As he returns to form, the plan is to increase Wacha’s workload by 15-20 pitches each outing. By the time the postseason arrives, he would be back to a normal pitch count ceiling.
He has not yet been activated off the 60-day DL. That move will likely come Thursday.