(BaseballStL) -- In 18 months since being drafted, Michael Wacha has accomplished more than many baseball players ever get the chance to see.
He pitched 26 games throughout four different minor league levels, made another 15 appearances -- including nine starts -- in the majors and will make his first postseason start with the Cardinals’ season on the line Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
You could say it’s been a fast track full of success for the 22-year-old righthander.
“It's definitely been a crazy past year. Whenever I came to spring training this past season, the goal was to get up here to St. Louis and help them win some ballgames,” Wacha said before Sunday’s Game 3. “I wouldn't really say whenever I was in college my junior year that I would ever have thought of this, but I just look at it as an opportunity to take advantage of.”
Less than a year since being selected 19th overall out of Texas A&M, Wacha gave up only one run on two hits in seven innings pitched in his major-league debut, which came against the Royals on May 30. It also marked the fastest Cardinal pitcher to make his major-league debut since Cris Carpenter in 1988.
Monday’s start will be the first since he came within an out of a no-hitter against the Nationals nearly two weeks ago. An infield chopper off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman fell just out of the reach of Wacha and ruined his bid for the no-hitter. It capped a strong September, which he posted a 2-1 record with 1.72 earned-run average in 31 1/3 innings pitched.
“I think you take the positives from each game and try and use that in your bullpens and in between starts, and take that into the next game,” Wacha said. “There's always stuff you can work on, and so I think you just take the positives from the last game and just move forward from there.”
Manager Mike Matheny believes the talent mixed with the maturity shown in situations like his near no-hitter led to the quick rise for Wacha.
“You can see that he's mature beyond his years and beyond his experience,” Matheny said. “We put him to the test, pitching late in the season, watching him take a no-hitter into the ninth inning and kind of watching how he's handled every step along the way.”
The rookie’s maturity didn’t appear once he started playing alongside the likes of veterans Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday. His maturity was reinforced once he stepped foot inside the Cardinals organization, Matheny believes.
“We were excited to watch just not his stuff, but how he handled a big league clubhouse, how he handled the distractions that do come with this job, and we've been very impressed,” Matheny said. “He's done a nice job and still room to improve, too, which is hard to think about, but it's true.”
Wacha made two regular season appearances versus Pittsburgh, one in relief and one start, and didn’t allow a run in nine innings pitched. The Pirates managed only two hits in seven innings against Wacha in their last meeting on September 8.
“Their lineup is pretty stacked,” Wacha said. “They have a lot of good hitters so I just have to make my pitch and make it an effective pitch down, and not catch too much of the plate.”
Neither of his appearances against the Pirates came in front of the raucous Pittsburgh fans.
“I think it's just important to just try and focus in on the catcher and try to drown out the crowd and just try and stay as focused as you can and execute the pitch that's called,” Wacha said. “I think that usually just takes care of the crowd if you can block that kind of stuff out.”
His focus will have to be sharp if the Cardinals plan on returning home for Game 5.
Scott Bierman covers the Cardinals, Blues and Rams for KMOV.com and its associated mobile apps (BaseballStL, HockeyStL and FootballStL). You can follow him on Twitter @Scott_Bierman for St. Louis sports news and updates.