Wacha on August woes: It will turn around

Right-hander labors in 4-run 1st, Rays' red-hot bats cool off against Twins

August 15th, 2021

's woeful August continued, while the Rays’ record-setting offense finally cooled in Saturday night’s 12-0 loss to the Twins at Target Field.

Wacha, who is now 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA in three starts this month, allowed seven runs on 11 hits and a walk to a Minnesota team that hadn’t scored more than seven runs in a game this month. Of course, the Rays have been polar opposites of that: In shutout fashion, they snapped a streak of seven-straight games with eight or more runs scored (a franchise best).

“I’ve never, myself personally, been through a stretch like this,” Wacha said. “But you won’t ever see any quit out of me. Always working to get better. I believe that I’m a much better pitcher than what I’ve been showing these last few starts.”

Minnesota rolled against Wacha immediately, scoring four times in the first inning -- starting with a leadoff home run by Max Kepler.

Leadoff hitters have been particularly problematic for Wacha this season. After entering the game with a 1.138 OPS allowed against the first batter of an inning (83 plate appearances), Wacha let the leadoff man in each of the first three innings reach safely. Two of them scored.

“Too many mistakes over the middle of the plate,” Wacha said. “Not getting it where I wanted it to be with those first few innings there.”

Pitching on the road has also wreaked havoc on Wacha, who owns a 7.21 ERA in 11 road outings (nine starts). On the plus side, he gutted through five innings -- saving the bullpen from working overtime, which seemed almost certain after his 30-pitch first. Wacha retired eight of the final nine batters he faced, including a pair of punchouts in the fifth.

But the damage was long done by then.

And in fairness, the Rays offered zero offensive support. They managed just three hits, matching their lowest total in a game since June, and they never had multiple runners on base. Both leadoff men to reach safely were erased via double plays. On the bright side, a hit-by-pitch for Wander Franco extended his on-base streak to 17 games.

Wacha’s struggles are glaring, but the Rays have limited options to remedy the situation. Their rotation is already quite thin, with reliever Drew Rasmussen recently backfilling as the No. 5 starter, and it’s difficult to tell when reinforcements are coming.

Ryan Yarbrough is on the COVID-related injured list, but manager Kevin Cash has been mum on providing updates about the lanky lefty. Chris Archer (right lateral forearm tightness), who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since April 10, will make a rehab start for Triple-A Durham on Tuesday as he tries to work his way back.

Even when other rotation options emerge, it’s not like a move to the bullpen will necessarily inspire success for Wacha. In 47 1/3 career innings as a reliever, he has a 7.04 ERA, and that includes 15 earned runs in just 14 1/3 relief innings this season.

Cash said he doesn’t have a reason to remove Wacha from the rotation, so it appears the right-hander will just keep trying to pitch his way out of the funk.

Wacha is well aware of the stakes involved for a reigning pennant winner trying to lock down a loaded division. He wants to be part of the triumphs, not the trials, and he’s determined to do so.

“These are very important games that we’re in this last month and a half,” he said. “Every start, every game is magnified and very important. … Like I said, man, it’s not gonna hurt me. You’re not ever gonna see me quit out there. It’s on to the next one, and it will turn around.”