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Wacha's focus is to 'get people out'

Starting candidate continues solid spring with 2 2/3 one-run innings
@cdenicola13
March 6, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With six starters vying for five spots in the Mets' rotation, there will be an odd man out. Right-hander Michael Wacha and manager Luis Rojas deflected talk of that on Friday night, when the Mets lost to the Astros, 3-2, in walk-off fashion at FITTEAM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With six starters vying for five spots in the Mets' rotation, there will be an odd man out.

Right-hander Michael Wacha and manager Luis Rojas deflected talk of that on Friday night, when the Mets lost to the Astros, 3-2, in walk-off fashion at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

"That's their decision to make," Wacha said. "My job's to go out there and get people out. That's what I've been trying to focus on."

Added Rojas: "They're all right now stretching out. We have six great starters. There's no roles as far as where our rotation's going to be. They're stretching out, they're having fun, they're competing out there, they're implementing the stuff we talk about in practice into the game."

Facing a lineup consisting of all but one of Houston's regulars, Wacha was chased after a two-out RBI bloop hit in the third -- his first run surrendered in three spring starts. He permitted five hits, with one walk and two strikeouts.

The 28-year-old right-hander handled the Grapefruit League outing while ace Jacob deGrom threw in a simulated game a few hours earlier at the Mets' Spring Training facility in Port St. Lucie. Both guys were lined up to pitch with Monday's off-day following Sunday's split-squad games. Southpaw Steven Matz, the other candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, will get the nod on Saturday.

"Wacha threw the ball well," Rojas said. "Established the fastball, and then used his changeup very well with his fastball. Threw a lot of good cutters, righty-righty, in to lefties. I thought he mixed really well."

Signed to a one-year, $3 million deal (value could max to $10 million with incentives) this offseason, Wacha is hoping to rebound after going 6-7 with a 4.76 ERA and a career-high 1.56 WHIP in 29 games (24 starts) with the Cardinals in 2019. He dealt with left knee patellar tendinitis in late April.

Wacha is encouraged by his spring thus far.

In his first two starts, Wacha didn't allow a run over five innings while scattering three hits and three walks with three strikeouts. He credits a few mechanical changes for helping him repeat his delivery and velocity, with the help of video work over the offseason.

On Friday night, Wacha clocked 95-96 mph on his four-seam fastball, which is faster than his average from 2019 (93 mph) per Statcast.

But the seven-year veteran thinks the key to his success is rooted less in the velocity and more in his release point. If Wacha's fastball and changeup come out of his hand at the same spot, a batter will find it tougher to pick it up.

"It's just coming out easy," said Wacha, who threw 57 pitches (36 strikes). "I'm not trying to throw hard or anything, just trying to spot up and make pitches and execute off of that.

"With those tweaks, [the] ball's just coming out pretty nice right now."

Christina De Nicola is a reporter and game producer for MLB.com based in Miami. Follow her on Twitter @CDeNicola13.