As we draw nearer to pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training and getting our first glimpse at how Adam Wainwright looks, if Miles Mykolas will translate his game back from Japan, how long before Alex Reyes takes the mound in a game, it’s also a step closer to seeing if last season will be a building block for Michael Wacha.
The St. Louis Cardinals right-hander finished the season 12-9, but more importantly he was healthy and able to make 30 starts.
“Yeah, a lot of confidence,” agreed Wacha on the carry-over to this year. “It was a real big step making all my starts again. I had missed, in 2016, some time there. But being able to make all my starts in ’17 built a lot of confidence going into ’18 with the good workouts and the throwing program. A lot of excitement going into it, for sure.”
Following those scapular issues which led to the missed time in 2016, Wacha worked with the trainer of Brandon McCarthy–who had experienced the same kind of issues in his career, to put together an off-season regiment to strengthen the area. With the success of last season, he has been following pretty much the same plan again this year.
“A lot of focus last year was on getting my shoulder healthy in the offseason,” explained Wacha. “The shoulder stayed healthy throughout the season and still feels strong. I think there were just some deficiencies there last year. I’m able to work more throughout the body with the offseason program. But the throwing program, starting it up around the same time. Going to go with the same stuff throughout the season with the throwing program between starts, as well.”
Wacha finished last season with a 12-9 record but notable was his strikeouts/per 9 innings ratio of 8.6. That was the highest since he burst on the scene in 2013. Part of that swing and miss success was due to an increased velocity, which saw him regularly clocking at 97mph+ on the radar gun.
“I just felt good,” said Wacha. “I felt strong. I was probably the strongest I’ve ever been. Probably the best shape I’ve ever been in in my life. I don’t know. It was coming out nice last year.”
The thirty starts last season was big for Wacha as it matched his previous best from 2015. He threw 181.1 innings then, could he top the 200 innings mark in 2018?
“I’m trying to go out there as long as I can, whether it’s 200 innings or 180 or 220, who knows what it is,” said Wacha. “I’m just trying to go out there and do the best I can, make all the starts I can and go as deep into the game as possible and be as effective as possible. Try to give the bullpen some off days every once and a while and not wear them out. Just trying to make every start I can.”
The downward plane for his delivery, pounding the strike zone, going for early outs–all part of the game plan.
“But you can’t just feed it in there obviously to get early outs all the time,” Wacha pointed out. “It’s not an easy game to go deep. That’s a tough job. But that’s definitely something I’m working toward. I’m working to be more well conditioned to where I’m stronger late in the game and can get deeper into them.”
On July 18th last year, Wacha threw his first complete game–a shutout against Washington. But he pitched into the 7th inning or later only two other times last season.
If he is indeed able to build upon last year and provide additional quality innings that could go a long ways for a Cardinals rotation that may need to cover innings for other spots in their rotation.
photo credit: BIll Greenblatt/UPI, Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports, Bill Greenblatt/UPI