Will Michael Wacha live up to his potential in the upcoming season?
It’s been a long offseason for Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha. When the thought of giving up a walk-off home run that basically ended the Cardinals’s postseason run becomes the last baseball memory before a four month hiatus, the offseason begins to feel like punishment.
However, Wacha has made efforts to move on from last year’s late season woes. According to an STL Today article from Friday, Wacha has reported to Jupiter, Fl. earlier than most other Cardinal pitchers and has recently completed his fifth bullpen session of the offseason.
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In another report, St. Louis Post Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold emphasized that the Cardinals’ goal is to settle Wacha back into action on a routine that provides him with more flexibility and proper rest. Many signs may point towards improvement for Wacha, but as he enters Spring Training without a guaranteed rotation spot, the big question remains, what type of season is in store for the 23-year-old?
To fairly assess Wacha’s current situation, it might be helpful to examine his path to the big leagues. He was drafted 19th overall by the Cardinals in 2012, a spot claimed from the Los Angeles Angels when Albert Pujols didn’t accept St. Louis’s qualifying offer in the 2011 offseason. Wacha impressed in the minor leagues and was able to work his way up to a Major League debut less than a year after being drafted.
His rookie season was highlighted by an impressive debut in May against the Kansas City Royals and a near no-hitter in late September against the Washington Nationals. Ultimately, these successful performances earned him the last rotation slot on the Cardinals 2013 postseason roster over Shelby Miller. This may have been the most rewarding decision during this October run, as Wacha opened eyes with four wins and 33 strikeouts during the 2013 postseason. He also named the 2013 NLCS MVP before the Cardinals fell short of a World Series title against the Boston Red Sox.
After making a late season impact during his rookie season, Wacha paced himself to the second rotation spot in the Cardinals’ hierarchy. However, he didn’t take off as quickly as expected in his sophomore season. He only won five game in the first half, largely in part to the Cardinals’ inability to provide adequate run support in the early going. On June 22, Wacha landed on the disabled list with a stress reaction in his right shoulder, which could have prompted Tommy John surgery without proper treatment.
Unfortunately, this injury epitomized a second half collapse for Wacha. Even though he made four regular season starts in September for the then pitching-deprived Cardinals, his contributions were limited down the stretch. Wacha posted no wins and a dismal 5.40 ERA in his last four starts after being rushed from his shoulder injury, overshadowed by just one poor postseason appearance, in which he gave up the NLCS series ending home run to the Giants’ Travis Ishikawa.
When the thought of giving up a walk-off home run that basically ended the Cardinals’s postseason run becomes the last baseball memory before a four month hiatus, the offseason begins to feel like punishment.
While Wacha may have suffered from high expectations in 2014, his setback is similar to what Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright experienced in his first season removed from Tommy John surgery. Although Wainwright won 14 games in 2012, he posted a career worst 3.94 ERA and struggled in the postseason. However, the 33-year-old made necessary adjustments to earn top-3 finishes in the NL Cy Young Voting in each of the past two seasons and solidify his role as the Cardinals’ ace.
Even though Wacha’s situation is slightly different, he could follow a transition similar to Wainwright. If Wacha can brush up his mechanics and pitch selection before this upcoming season, it could pay large dividends for the Cardinals in the long run.
Given his past experiences and the Cardinals’ recent emphasis for quality starting pitching, Michael Wacha could very well be in for a comeback year. But even if St. Louis’s developing youngster appears ready to break out, this year will tell us a lot about how exactly he fits in the Cardinals’ future plans.