Wacha hoping he settles into playoff rotation
Right-hander battles to get through five innings after shaky start vs. D-backs
PHOENIX -- With a 7-6, 10-inning win over the Diamondbacks on Friday night, the Cardinals' magic number for a National League Central title is two. However, in taking the opener of a three-game series at Chase Field, there emerged little clarity as to how the Cardinals' rotation will set up if they do advance to the NL Division Series.
Whether Michael Wacha will figure prominently into the Cardinals' postseason plans remains a question after Friday's performance, his fourth start since missing 11 weeks with a right shoulder stress reaction. There were continued concerns, chief among them the time it took for Wacha to get settled in.
The right-hander needed 50 pitches to get through the first two innings, during which he walked four of the first 11 batters faced. A double play helped Wacha out of the first after he allowed two runs. A groundout ended the second to strand the bases full. Of those first 50 pitches, Wacha induced only two swing and misses.
"I think I was just rushing my body there in the early innings," Wacha said. "I'm not real sure why I was a little jumpy there. The mechanics were just off a little bit. The arm was dragging behind and I was throwing a lot up in the zone."
Catcher Yadier Molina made his first mound visit after Wacha's eighth pitch. Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist came out five pitches later. Jason Motte warmed up in the first and second, presumably poised to come in had the D-backs mustered a big hit. While the Cardinals were hitting in the third, Marco Gonzales continued getting ready to enter in long relief.
Manager Mike Matheny acknowledged after the game that he was prepared to pull Wacha when the team was batting in the second, if Wacha's spot in the order had come up with a runner on. It missed by one.
"These games … no one needs me to tell them how important they are," Matheny said. "If something isn't right, we are going to have to make a change. He just kept staying with it and found it. When he found it, that's very much what we've seen from him for the majority of the time he's been here. It's exciting to think about him continuing to build on that."
Indeed, Matheny was rewarded by sticking with Wacha, who made the most of his short leash. Beginning with his final out in the second, Wacha sat down 10 in a row before a leadoff single in the sixth ended his night. It was the last look the Cardinals will get before determining Wacha's postseason readiness.
Wacha's changeup was the best it had been all month, and his fastball effectiveness returned once the mechanics got straightened out.
"I was happy with the way it was moving, getting some swings on it and getting some takes on it," Wacha said of the changeup. "I was glad that pitch was back for me and I was able to get some outs on it."
A relief role in the postseason may be an option for Wacha, who went 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA over the first four playoff starts of his career.
Asked if he had shown enough to be a part of the postseason picture, Wacha responded: "I hope so."
"I'm not sure what my role will be," he added, "but whatever it is, I hope I'm out there to make an impact."