ST. LOUIS -- Michael Wacha searched for much of the season for consistency on the mound. After going seven innings in Pittsburgh and allowing just a three hits and two runs, he appeared to have found something. It was the first time since May 3 he cleared 21 outs, and there was optimism he may have figured out the problem.
Friday night, it seemed like the search was over.
“The way pitches were coming out of my hand, I felt good,” Wacha said. “It feels like I’m in sync and my arm’s in the right position when I’m coming home.”
The newfound rhythm paid off on the radar gun early on. Wacha reach 98 miles per hour with his fastball multiple times in the first inning, making the difference between that and his signature changeup nearly 15 miles per hour.
For the first time in a long while, Wacha looked to be in complete control of the game.
“He had everything. That first inning he wasn’t getting a lot of calls in the bottom of the zone which could be a sign of bad things to come if he starts raising his pitches,” said Mike Matheny. “But he did a good job of staying consistent.”
His changeup was tremendous all night, featuring the late, low drop that makes the pitch so effective.
He struck out seven and got eight groundouts, a mixture often seen when the righty is at his best. It’s a product of Wacha’s tireless study of his own motion to get his mechanics back in line.
“[My arm] is in the right position to throw the ball where I want to consistently. It’s been a lot of work, and I’m still working between starts to get it where I want it to be,” he said. “It’s something you have to stay on top of at all times. Pitching mechanics is definitely muscle memory. You have to keep working at it, you have to stay on your mechanics to get it to stay where you want to be.”
“I know he’s been taking close notes and hopefully it’s something he’ll continue to learn from,” added Matheny. “He’ll have some bumps and I think he’s going to continue to shorten that learning curve when things go bad, but right now he’s in a good spot.”
The only thing missing from Friday’s 7.2-inning performance was a win. Rougned Odor belted a low fastball into the grass beyond the center field wall for the game’s only run in the fifth inning, and the Cardinals were unable to overcome the deficit against a sharp Cole Hamels.
Wacha was pulled with two outs in the eighth, meaning he wouldn’t get the win even if the Cards took the lead in the bottom half of the inning.
It’s now the 10th start in a row for Wacha without getting a victory, and his seventh straight losing decision. The 1-0 defeat is his second loss when allowing just a single run, the other coming when he allowed one run to the Phillies on May 3.
But the 24-year-old isn’t worried much about the decisions.
“I don’t really look too much at the win column or anything like that. I’m just trying to go as deep as I can,” he said.
He’s gone seven or more innings in his last two starts, and seems to have found comfort in his delivery. Those things, for the moment, are far more important. He found his stride at the right time for the Cardinals. With his next start scheduled for Wednesday against the Cubs, Wacha will have to face the MLB’s two best teams in back-to-back outings.
A month ago that would make observers nervous. Now, it’s appointment TV.