LOS ANGELES -- The Cardinals put Michael Wacha back in the rotation hoping the right-hander would find his groove and provide an answer for the question mark that is the inconsistent fifth starter spot.
But the doubts remain after Monday night’s 8-0 loss at Dodger Stadium.
Wacha made it through just 3 2/3 innings -- the same as his last start on July 4 before being put in the bullpen for the second time this season -- and gave up six runs on seven hits to push the Cardinals 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs in the National League Central.
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Wacha made quality pitches, but the Dodgers’ monster lineup gave the right-hander no time to settle back into the starting spot.
Joc Pederson ripped Wacha’s first pitch of the game to right field with an exit velocity of 110.6 mph, according to Statcast. And after Max Muncy walked, Cody Bellinger launched a three-run home run 419 feet over the right-field wall to give the Dodgers a lead that the Cardinals -- who had just two hits off of Dodgers rookie Tony Gonsolin -- would not recover from.
“[Wacha’s] stuff was as good as we’ve seen in a while, quite honestly,” Shildt said. “Just wasn’t rewarded. And the other thing that is magnified more is we couldn’t score either. When you’re playing from behind, it feels rightfully a little worse when you’re not scoring and giving us a chance to get back in the game.”
In spite of that, even two of the outs that Wacha got in the first inning were hit hard: Justin Turner grounded into a forceout (101.7 mph) and Will Smith grounded out to shortstop Paul DeJong (103.8 mph).
“I felt pretty good out there on the mound,” Wacha said. “I felt like I was making pitches. Whenever I didn’t make a pitch, they took advantage of it. Just got to keep executing, keep making pitches. Body felt good, arm felt good, so that’s a positive. Take that and keep working in between starts, and keep working on executing.”
Shildt said pregame that when Wacha has command of his fastball and changeup, he can be elite. There were times that Wacha showed that on Monday night. In the bottom of the second inning, for example, Wacha struck out Pederson swinging hard with two fastballs down in the zone and a changeup.
“I think you get the best version of Michael when that plane is down and he’s able to command the fastball at the bottom of the zone, elevate when he wants to,” Shildt said. “And then work his changeup off of that. And vice versa. That’s when Michael is good.”
But Wacha wouldn’t fool Pederson again. With two outs and 1-2 count, Wacha threw a curveball -- and Pederson lined it over the right-field wall in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Instead of ending the inning with momentum, Wacha exited after walking Muncy in an eight-pitch at-bat.
“They’ve got a really good lineup,” Wacha said. “They put together some good at-bats. They grind you down and keep fouling off tough pitches and take the ones that are close. We try to get them swing at the ones on the corner, those ones just off, and a well-disciplined team doesn’t do that.”
What comes next with the fifth starter spot? The Cardinals could stick with Wacha or turn to a Triple-A option, like Daniel Ponce de Leon again or Jake Woodford, who gave up four runs in six innings for the Redbirds on Friday.
Right now, it’s too soon to make a call, Shildt said, but the Cardinals will assess Wacha’s outing and move forward from there.
“We’ll take a little deeper dive into looking at the stuff and execution and realize that maybe it was more pitches than we think, maybe it was just a few pitches they put swings on,” Shildt said. “You don’t want to overreact to it, but clearly, we don’t want to underreact to it.”