NEW YORK -- The Cardinals have never forgotten what they saw of Michael Wacha when he burst onto the Major League scene in 2013. It's why they've stuck by him through recurring shoulder issues and provided a longer leash than others might have when things started to veer off track
NEW YORK -- The Cardinals have never forgotten what they saw of Michael Wacha when he burst onto the Major League scene in 2013. It's why they've stuck by him through recurring shoulder issues and provided a longer leash than others might have when things started to veer off track earlier this season.
And from that potential has bubbled payoff, none more evident than on Tuesday when Wacha finished off his first career complete game and shutout by striking out Jay Bruce on a 97-mph fastball. The 119th pitch of Wacha's night sealed the Cardinals' 5-0 win over the Mets and reaffirmed why the organization has refused to let any of the setbacks nudge Wacha aside.
"It's the human spirit and the psyche of going out there and wanting to have the kind of game you deserve to finish," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Michael wanted that real bad, and I don't blame him."
The two had a brief conversation following Wacha's 10-pitch eighth, and after Wacha assured his manager that he still felt strong, he was given the opportunity to pitch into the ninth for the first time this season. His 17th pitch of the final frame -- registering at 98.5 mph -- was Wacha's hardest of the night.
"It wanted it," Wacha said of the shutout, the first by a Cardinals pitcher on the road since Shelby Miller blanked Toronto on June 7, 2014. "Being able to do it on this stage is a very cool feeling. It was just a lot of fun."
The Mets finished with as many errors (three) as they did hits off Wacha, who kept New York hitless in seven chances with runners in scoring position. The righty didn't allow a runner to reach third until the ninth, and he struck out eight, giving him 26 strikeouts over his last three appearances.
The 119 pitches eclipsed his previous career high of 114, and the dominance came without the usual reliance on a fastball-changeup mix. While the two pitches were effective (particularly late in the game), Wacha mixed in a heavy dose of curves and cutters to keep the Mets guessing early.
The timing of his first career shutout was crucial, too, as Matheny entered the game with half of his eight-man bullpen off limits due to workload concerns.
"I haven't seen him pitch in a while against us, but obviously this is the guy you read about and heard about," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "You look up and he's got 118 pitches, he's still throwing 97 [mph] with a tremendous changeup and a very, very good curveball. So whatever injuries or health issues he's had in the past, they're over with. He's certainly back to as good as I've seen him."
Signs of a resurgence have been building for Wacha. Since posting an 8.17 ERA over a six-game stretch that had some calling for his removal from the rotation, Wacha is 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA in four starts. His strikeout rate has jumped, and he's found the cutter to be a put-away pitch. After notching five strikeouts on it over his first 14 appearances, Wacha has logged eight in his last three.
The enhanced repertoire was on display Tuesday, as Wacha garnered 12 outs on his fastball, eight with his cutter, four via the changeup and three with the curve.
"You can't forget in '13 when this kid came on the scene and pitched on the big stage and threw some of the better games that we had seen," Matheny said. "And that stuff, when he's healthy, that stuff is right. Days like this, I know, reaffirm for him the kind of pitcher he should be."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.