ST. LOUIS — Michael Wacha will return to the sidelines this weekend, as the Cardinals have decided to skip his start in favor of giving him rest. He is coming off two starts after an extended stay on the disabled list, throwing 50 pitches in Milwaukee September 4 and 70 pitches in Cincinnati Tuesday.
“To us, it doesn’t look quite right,” Mike Matheny said Friday. “He’s coming in kind of a different scenario. We’re trying to build him up. Typically if he doesn’t look right, you take more rest and we had an opportunity to do that.”
The manager said the staff observed issues with Wacha’s command in both of his recent starts and decided Friday before taking the field for batting practice to pull him from Sunday’s start.
“He’s all about locating the fastball. Both times that was something that was a struggle,” Matheny said. “He’s trying to get a good feel out there and sometimes that’s hard to do throwing him out there every fifth day.”
He would not call the move a shutdown, saying instead the intention is to allow the 23-year-old to regroup on his road back. Wacha reportedly threw a side session Thursday with similar results, again having trouble with control.
“Right now, we didn’t like how it was coming together,” Matheny said. “He wasn’t necessarily overly excited about how the ball was coming out of his hand, so what do you do? We stick to the original plan and we just stop.”
Matheny added the team had built the possibility of a pause into Wacha’s rehab plans, and as of Friday’s conversation, there were no plans for further MRIs. He also said the young righty has not reported any reemergence of symptoms in his shoulder.
Unlike with Shelby Miller’s rest period earlier in the season, Wacha will not be used out of the bullpen. He also is not slated to do any extra bullpen work.
“The best thing to do, especially when we have a young pitcher like this, if something doesn’t look right we pause,” the manager said.
With the postseason schedule released, contending teams can begin to formulate plans for an October rotation. Matheny made it clear Friday he hadn’t begun to even consider the postseason, instead focusing on the remaining games as his team attempts to hold the division lead.
It would be natural to wonder, however, what this rest/pause/break means for Wacha’s chances at a postseason rotation spot. With 15 games remaining, Wacha’s opportunities to start and work himself up to a full pitch load are dwindling fast. Still, Matheny was quick to counter, saying this decision doesn’t discount Wacha in October.
“That’s taking it too far. We figured that these sort of questions would pop up, but when something doesn’t look right and someone’s coming back - which he is still coming back, he’s not at full go, he’s working to get there - we kind of gave ourselves the freedom where if we like how it looks we keep pushing if we don’t, we stop.”
Marco Gonzales will start in Wacha's place, his second start since returning to the club in late August. He was added for the doubleheader with Chicago under the “26th man rule,” going six innings and allowing one run on three hits. Since then he has been used to back up Wacha, coming in after the starter reached his pitch limit.