ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Cardinal nation let out a collective gasp Thursday with the announcement the club would skip Michael Wacha’s upcoming Saturday start.
After initially lining up to face off against Jon Lester, Wacha will rest and Carlos Martinez will take the hill. Wacha, 25, is in the midst of a resurgent year. In six starts, he’s allowed more than two earned runs just twice. He has 34 strikeouts to nine walks, a WHIP of 1.14 and an ERA+ of 131. Most importantly, he’s gone at least six innings in each of his starts without any issues.
Nearly everyone is aware of Wacha’s peculiar shoulder issue, but for those who’ve missed it, here’s the abridged version:
Over time, repeated work causes a stress reaction (precursor to a stress fracture) in his scapula and he has to be shut down or risk serious injury. There’s very little indication as to when it will flare up, and the only recourse (apart from regular MRIs and rest) is a strength program targeting the supporting muscles in the shoulder.
After two years of trial and error, the big righty seemed to have found the right training regimen heading into 2017. But given the sudden onset of symptoms in the past, observers understandably feared the worst when this weekend’s rotation announcement was made.
As of Friday, those concerns appear unfounded.
Wacha insisted he felt fine and the skipped start was because the team decided to just get him a break. There was no talk of MRIs, medical teams or the ever-nebulous “discomfort.” The move was born of foresight, not fear.
“It’s always something we thought was important, trying to bake in some rest. At the quarter turn, I just think it made sense to do that,” GM John Mozeliak said before the series opener with Chicago. “Obviously having the off days we have will allow you to do that. We might not be afforded that opportunity again until the All Star break.”
The Cardinals had an off day Thursday, and will follow the weekend series against the World-Champion-Cubs with another break on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday are the first part of a two-and-two with Boston, then the Cards get another day off before they host the Giants next weekend.
There is no better time to shorten up the rotation than over the next week, and the Cardinals are jumping at the chance. Wacha may be on his best run in a long while, but one thing is certain: rest is the only proven way to avoid a recurrence of his shoulder malady.
“If you’re always kicking the can down the road, you always sort of end up being like ‘uh oh, it’s too late.’ So I think anything you can bank now is smart,” Mozeliak said.
The rotation has been as strong as St. Louis could have hoped for this season, but it’s still precariously thin. While there’s talent in the minors, there are no ready made plug-and-play arms should one of the regular five go down. Arturo Reyes has been the brightest light in Memphis, going 3-0 in four starts with a 2.25 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. He has a complete game under his belt and appears to be reaching his potential. Luke Weaver is close behind, posting three scoreless starts and a very clean 10/0 strikeout to walk ratio. Marco Gonzales and John Gant are on the way. But they are all promising, not proven.
The Cardinals must protect the rotation they have. Wacha is by far the most vulnerable piece of that rotation health-wise. This is likely the first of several planned breaks for him, all of which are necessary if the team hopes to have him for a playoff push.