ST. LOUIS -- Memories of Michael Wacha's solid start to the season have faded, replaced by questions about whether an already struggling rotation can afford to keep sending the searching right-hander to the mound every five days.Wacha remains winless since April 23, and his latest loss, a 12-3 shelling by
ST. LOUIS -- Memories of Michael Wacha's solid start to the season have faded, replaced by questions about whether an already struggling rotation can afford to keep sending the searching right-hander to the mound every five days.
Wacha remains winless since April 23, and his latest loss, a 12-3 shelling by the Cubs on Tuesday, was the most numbing yet. Wacha was battered for a career-worst eight runs, six of which scored before he retired his third out. By then the Cardinals' bullpen was already stirring with activity, as Tyler Lyons hastily warmed up.
Lyons would eventually enter in the fifth and give the Cardinals their third relief appearance of at least three innings since Thursday. Two of those have come behind Wacha, who claimed the unenviable distinction of being the first Cardinals pitcher since Mike Maroth (2007) to allow at least six earned runs in three consecutive starts.
"I feel ... like I'm on time for an inning, two innings. Then something gets out of whack," Wacha said. "I don't know if I'm trying too hard, but I have to stay within myself and continue working down in the zone."
The rotation has been wholly inconsistent, its ERA now up to 4.45. But Wacha has been the weakest link. Of the five starts of four innings or fewer the Cardinals have had, three have come from Wacha. They've been concurrent, too, with Wacha allowing 20 runs (16 earned) over these last three outings.
Both he and manager Mike Matheny say there is no potential physical issue, both citing mechanical inconsistencies as the culprit. Wacha will have a chance to make corrections in five days, as Matheny insists there are no impending changes to his role.
"He's just got to continue to make the changes he needs to make. You just have to work through it," Matheny said. "Let's just see what he does next start without starting to map what he has to fix. Timelines, that's not fair. He just has to go out and make a good start next time out. I think you're going to see much better stuff."
Wacha had already simplified his mechanics during an up-and-down Spring Training. Now it's about repeating them. His unique delivery, which leads to the downward tilt of his pitches, hasn't been in sync, and that's resulted in too many pitches left up in the zone. Wacha described his arm as "dragging."
That's one reason why opponents entered the day hitting .330 off Wacha's fastball this season. And after he issued four more walks -- including one with the bases loaded -- Wacha's walk rate is 3.6 per nine innings, the worst of his career.
Identifying the reason behind the command issues is the easy part. What Wacha hasn't been able to do well enough yet is correct it on the spot.
"Whenever you're trying to compete and make your pitch to get outs and all your focus has to be on getting this guy out, it's not good to be thinking about mechanics out there on the mound," Wacha said. "I have to get back to where I need to be and who I am as a pitcher."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.