MILWAUKEE -- With Alex Reyes' return a day away and Carlos Martinez's earmarked for the near future, the Cardinals can soon envision their rotation at the height of its powers. And it figures to be special. What Michael Wacha continues to bring to the middle of it makes it potentially
MILWAUKEE -- With Alex Reyes' return a day away and Carlos Martinez's earmarked for the near future, the Cardinals can soon envision their rotation at the height of its powers. And it figures to be special. What Michael Wacha continues to bring to the middle of it makes it potentially more so.
Wacha continued what's shaping into a career year on Tuesday night, subduing a red-hot Brewers team for much of St. Louis' 6-1 win. Backed by a 10-hit, three-homer attack, Wacha didn't allow a hit until the fifth or a run until the seventh. He induced 10 ground-ball outs over 6 2/3 frames, improving to 6-1 with a 2.71 ERA across 11 starts.
"It was one of those special days where he had everything and he was putting it all where he wanted to," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's a great example of a guy getting better."
Consistently healthy and in his age-26 season, Wacha is developing into the dependable arm the Cardinals long envisioned. He's proven a pillar of consistency since losing his season debut way back on March 31, completing at least five innings in each start and at least six in four straight. In doing so, he's steadied a rotation that's been forced to endure long stretches without Martinez, Reyes and Adam Wainwright, and grown into something of a elder member on a staff full of fresh faces.
"He's the wily vet. He's out there telling 'back when I was a kid' stories," Matheny said. "It's funny to think about. But it's also just for now."
It's a unit that ranks second in the National League with a 3.06 ERA, even with all the moving parts. The rough plan to stabilize it was teased publicly Tuesday, when Matheny revealed Martinez will make a rehab start Thursday, lining him up to return as early as next week.
Wacha's latest effort put the Cardinals in a position to take this important intradivision series on Wednesday afternoon, when Reyes is slated to make his long-anticipated return in a game that will air exclusively on Facebook.
While the Cardinals aren't revealing who Reyes will bump from the rotation, it won't be Wacha, who has pitched well enough to stay out of that conversation. Tuesday, the Cardinals gave him an early lead and cruised. Harrison Bader's solo home run and a Jedd Gyorko two-run single bookended a four-run second, and Matt Carpenter added a solo shot off Brewers starter Zach Davies in the fourth.
Francisco Pena capped a three-hit night with a solo homer to center off Dan Jennings in the eighth, setting a final margin Jordan Hicks breezed through the final two innings to hold.
"He just looks strong," Matheny said of Wacha. "That's it. When he's healthy I think he'll give you a good shot every single night."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Starting in place of injured William Fowler for the second straight day, Bader tied a career-high three hits. He sprayed a single to right in the third and roped another to left in the fifth. But his highlight came in the second, when Bader skied a hanging curveball over the left-field wall to give the Cardinals an early lead.
"Good day all the way around for Bader," Matheny said. "Doing everything right."
It was nearly a month ago that Carpenter summoned the Cardinals' analytics department searching for a way out of a season-opening slump that saw him hit .155 in April. He's hit .293/.376/.609 over the 29 days since. His homer Tuesday was his fifth long ball and 17th extra-base hit of the month.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Hicks struck out four of the six batters he faced in his third appearance in four days. Three of those punchouts came courtesy of the slider, the pitch the Cardinals hope will result in more swing-and-misses as the 21-year-old develops it further.
Strikeouts were hard to come by for Hicks in the early going, despite him sporting a fastball that's reached 105 mph. But that's starting to change. After striking out just nine batters over his first 22 big league innings, Hicks has now punched out seven over his last 5 2/3.
HE SAID IT
"That was a difficult run there for him. Now it's that reinforcement of the kind of player and hitter that he is. There are a couple of other guys we need to get to that place. Hopefully they're all sharing notes." -- Matheny, on Carpenter
In one of the most highly anticipated debuts of the season, Reyes will complete his long road back from Tommy John surgery when this series concludes with Wednesday's matinee. Reyes, 23, will be appearing in his first Major League game since Sept. 29, 2016, after the Cardinals' No. 1 prospect struck out more than half the batters he faced -- while not allowing a run -- across four rehab starts. Junior Guerra (3-3, 2.98 ERA) will get the start for Milwaukee. First pitch is set for 12:10 p.m. CT from Miller Park (watch it live only on Facebook).
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.