St. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Michael Wacha, who rode a strong spring into a tremendous start to the 2017 season, followed his worst outing of the year on May 25th against the Dodgers with the shortest of the season Tuesday- again against the Dodgers.
The 25-year-old went just three innings against LA, allowing five hits and four earned runs over 77 pitches. All of his runs came in the fourth inning, a frame in which he threw 36 pitches.
The trouble began with a leadoff walk, one in which it appeared the tall righthander was getting squeezed in the strike zone.
A handful of batters later, he issued the second walk of the inning, again appearing to get unfriendly calls from home plate umpire Mark Wegner.
Tight zone or not, the Cardinals have a fairly strict red flag system in place for what they call “high-stress innings.” Even if a pitcher’s overall pitch count is within an acceptable range, the club will pull him if a single inning is deemed too strenuous. Wacha, especially given his injury history, reached that point when he threw nearly 40 pitches in the third.
The Cardinals called on lefty Tyler Lyons for the long relief work. The 29-year-old had thrown just six innings in this injury-shortened season, but has served as a multi-inning reliever before, as well as a spot starter. Given the Cardinals’ bullpen troubles, he was the best-suited candidate to eat innings through the middle of the game.
Tuesday is Wacha’s send ugly start in a row after the Dodgers ousted him in just four innings in Los Angeles. He was tagged for seven hits and six earned runs in that game, throwing 100 pitches to get 12 outs.
Back-to-back ugly outings for Wacha may raise alarms, but nothing in his performance suggested a recurrence of the shoulder injury that’s cut his seasons short in years past. His velocity was consistently in the mid-90s, and he was able to work most of his pitches down in the zone when he wanted.
More likely, he’s been bested twice by one of the NL’s best offenses, a Dodgers team that has a run differential of +82, better than any margin in baseball.
Prior to facing the Dodgers, Wacha had an ERA of 2.74 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.25. His next two starts are slated to come against a scuffling Cubs offense and a brutal Philadelphia Phillies squad who reside in the basement of the NL East. If the struggles continue against those lineups, then perhaps something more serious is afoot. Until that happens, it appears Wacha was simply beat up by a red-hot offense riding a five-game winning streak in which they’ve outscored opponents (the Cardinals and Cubs) 30-8.