ST. LOUIS — The Cardinals took another step toward the postseason Saturday with an 8-4 win over the Reds. Michael Wacha took a step as well, returning to the mound for a start that would determine his schedule down the final seven-game stretch.
“I felt a lot better today,” Wacha said at his locker. “Had more secondary stuff working for me, command was a little bit better.”
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Command had been the trouble spot for the 23-year-old in his return from the disabled list, and had caused manager Mike Matheny to skip him in the rotation last week as he worked to improve it. Saturday, Matheny said saw flashes of the Wacha that electrified the Dodgers in the 2013 NLCS.
“Better, Michael was better. I think we’ve all seen him even at another notch and I know that’s his frustration right now,” the manager said. “He wants to be there. I think he took a step in the right direction today.”
Wacha made it through 4.2 innings, striking out one while allowing six hits. He was forced out in the fifth when a two-out double from Kris Negron brought home a second Cincinnati run. It was a tough exit for the starter, who had reached 78 pitches and was one out away from qualifying for the win.
“Just watching him as he came off the mound there. Knowing he wanted to get through that fifth inning and I would too, if I was him,” Matheny said of Wacha’s frustration. “And giving up another run right there. Those are things he doesn’t want to have happen. You can see he was frustrated because he was so close.”
The former Aggie said missing out on the win doesn’t bother him at all, though Negron’s hit still nagged at him.
“Still kicking myself over the two-out double in the fifth, but I would still assess it as the same outing,” he said.
Wacha’s weapon of choice has been his tremendous change up, using it in tandem with an above-average fastball to keep hitters dancing when trying to time him up. Recently his go-to pitch has been tougher to corral.
“Definitely still searching for it right now. It’s definitely not where I want it to be, so I’ll continue to work on it on the side and in my bullpens,” he said. “I was definitely throwing it more for strikes later on in the game. It still doesn’t have the action I really want it to yet.”
The St. Louis starter saw eight fly balls compared to four grounders, several of which were hit with authority. It’s an indication he doesn’t have his formidable deception back yet, though his fastball was good enough to bail him out of trouble.
“We like to see the higher velocity, no question about it,” Matheny said. “We haven’t seen that 97 very often but we’re seeing some 95s and 95 plays. Especially when he gets it down in the zone.”
Wacha said his stamina was there all game long, and the Cardinals pushed him a bit past the pitch count they had in mind. He will have the opportunity to start one more game before season’s end, and is expected to have right around a full game’s worth of pitches to work with.