ST. LOUIS — With a little more than a week left in the season, the only remaining question the Cardinals had to answer was the fate of Michael Wacha. The 23-year-old was skipped Sunday, and threw a bullpen session Wednesday to determine if the command issues nagging him were on their way out.
“The bullpen session went well. He felt strong. We didn’t push him too hard, just got enough throwing in to make sure things felt right,” Mike Matheny said.
The nebulous concept of ‘right’ has defined Wacha’s road to recovery. This most recent pause was because the 23-year-old ‘didn’t look quite right’ in his two starts since coming off the disabled list in Milwaukee. The erratic command was making things tough, something the Cardinal manager said Wacha admitted to when reviewing his outings.
The pause seems to have helped the starter get back on track, as he is slated to start Saturday against the Reds.
“I think it was just the timing and location. I think it was just getting out there more often,” Matheny said of Wacha’s improvement. “The more often he’s out there, the better feel he’s going to have for all of his pitches. Not just his fastball, but his change up and his curveball. It’s jut going to come from repetitions.”
The change up, so crucial to Wacha’s success thus far, was giving him trouble in his two outings. Matheny was clear to explain how crucial feel is to the success of a change, emphasizing the necessity for Wacha to regain his touch with the pitch.
“He could go out and have a nasty one where he’s throwing 105 pitches, next time he comes out and doesn’t have a great feel for it and it’s hard and it’s flat and staying straight up in the zone and he’s just going to walk away from it that day and figure out something else,” he said.
With Wacha feeling sharper and the staff feeling confident, he will take the hill without a hard pitch limit Saturday. The Cardinals have a loose number in mind, but the length of the rookie’s outing will be determined by the quality of his work.
“If he looks good we stretch it, if he doesn’t we don’t necessarily have to push him to a number. We have to win a game,” Matheny said, explaining Marco Gonzales could be used to back Wacha up, but the plan is to pursue a quality start. “I would say from here on out, every pitcher is going to have to be on point all the time. Any time something doesn’t look right, we’ll be able to jump in there and Marco has definitely put himself in that mix to be a guy early the game that can come in and give us a chance.”
John Lackey will return to action Friday, followed by Wacha Saturday and Lance Lynn Sunday.