ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha had only been inside the Hyatt for the team's annual Winter Warm Up a little while, but before the media could get to him, the interrogation had begun.
"Just a couple million times," Wacha quipped when asked how many times he’d been asked about his problematic shoulder.
Sounds about right.
The Cardinals’ first round draft pick from 2012, who zoomed to the big leagues en route to the NLCS MVP award the next year, is facing a little bit of uncertainty right about now.
Even in the face of added pressure this past year, Wacha was off to his customary start (2.79 ERA through mid-June). Then he was shut down because of a stress reaction in his pitching shoulder.
From there, it was a string of MRIs, new workouts and a prolonged waiting game. He returned to the mound but was unable to regain consistency, being added to the postseason roster as a member of the bullpen. In his only appearance, he served up the walk-off, season-ending home run to the Giants in the NLCS. Manager Mike Matheny was criticized for putting the 23-year-old in that spot, but Wacha insists he liked getting the call.
"I wanted to be out there in that situation. As a competitor that's when you want to be out there,” he said. “Mike [Matheny] said he put me out there because he trusted me and I told him I appreciate it.”
The budding star was clear to note he’s approaching the season fresh, saying not only last year’s struggles but 2013’s heroics are in the past.
This season, everything revolves around Wacha's shoulder. Is this injury going to flair up again? Will it affect the way the Cardinals handle him?
These are questions that don't have answers just yet. He did have an MRI Sunday morning as a checkup, saying everything came back clean. His offseason workouts have focused on building up the muscles around his shoulder, and he is approaching 2015 without any changes to his motion.
"I don't think I'm going to have to change my mechanics. I'm just going to keep strengthening my shoulder and hopefully stay healthy," he said.
Though Wacha believes a full season is a realistic expectation, you'd imagine the Cardinals will limit his work. Most people believe a break will be sanctioned for him at some point in 2015, if for no other reason than to protect a young arm. But Wacha doesn’t want to that built into his identity.
"I don't want to be that guy that has to be shut down at a certain point," Wacha said. "I want to be that guy they can count on and trust to go out there [to pitch a lot of innings and] get a win."
He has no MRIs or checkups scheduled, so all that's left is the on-field work. Then, answering the next million questions.