Wacha: 'I have to figure something out'
PITTSBURGH -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny made a case after an 8-2 loss to the Pirates in Game 1 of Wednesday's doubleheader that Michael Wacha pitched better than his final line conveyed. But despite whatever may be in the eye of the beholder, there is no skirting around the reality that Wacha will enter the postseason on the heels of the worst month of his career.
Instead of wrapping up a National League Central title for his team, Wacha closed September with a thud. He was stung first by a Neil Walker solo homer and then a Francisco Cervelli grand slam. Wacha was out after allowing six runs over four innings, the same results he had in his first start of the month.
That one came against the Cubs, this one against the Pirates. Assuming the Cardinals secure the division crown, it would be one of those two teams that Wacha would face in his first postseason start, which will also be his next start.
"I think it's just executing pitches," Wacha said. "I don't think the workload has much to do with it. The body still feels good and the arm still feels good. I just haven't been making pitches the way I need to the past month. I have to figure something out and start competing a lot better out there."
Over five September starts (24 innings), Wacha allowed 25 hits and 21 earned runs. He walked nearly as many (18) as he struck out (19). Most concerning seems to be the escalation of free passes and home runs.
After allowing 12 homers over his first 157 1/3 innings, Wacha served up seven in September. He entered the month having walked just 40, and he walked four on Wednesday in addition to hitting a batter. Nevertheless, Matheny feels that overall, Wacha's pitches looked much crisper than they had.
"Once again, today wasn't a situation of bad stuff. His stuff was good," Matheny said. "Part of it was them just maximizing when they would get something. But this was one of those days when he came out there in the first [inning], and I was pretty sure we were going to see him out there a long time and not giving up a whole lot. They made the most of it."
With his next start likely not occurring until Oct. 12 or 13, Wacha will use the extra down time to work on fine-tuning some things during side sessions. The Cardinals will need him in the postseason, too, particularly now that Carlos Martinez is out for the season.
The Cardinals have been monitoring Wacha for potential fatigue, but Matheny said there haven't been signs of that, even though Wacha has thrown 181 1/3 innings after only logging 107 in 2014. His velocity hasn't dipped, and his delivery remains tight. Now it's about getting the execution back.
"I could tell last year that he was pushing a lot and wasn't getting on top [of the ball]," Matheny said. "That, to me, was a sign of something physical. I don't see that at all right now. It looked like good stuff today. They just got him."