The answer has become more and more clear each time Michael Wacha has taken the ball this spring, so it was of little surprise when the reports came before today’s game that Mike Matheny announced the right-hander would open the season in the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation.
“Yeah, just looks like the healthy Michael Wacha,” assessed Matheny recently. “The other guy was just the guy trying to fight through. He’s tough. He really is, but love to see him try and get out there and compete with his best stuff. That’s what we always hoped for him.”
The fastball, cutter, and changeup have all been swing and miss stuff from Wacha this spring. So too has been the curveball.
“Just another weapon,” he said. “Have something else that they’re thinking of in the back of their mind, something else possibly I could throw.”
With the pain gone and able to fully extend his arm for the release, Wacha has been regularly clocking in at 96mph with his fastball.
“With what Michael’s doing right now, he can compete against anybody,” said Matheny, who’s noted how “timed up” and “strong from his base” the pitcher has been.
The results also have the Cardinals feeling better that Wacha can just go out and pitch without having to strictly monitor his innings or plan for a sixth starter.
“Yeah, for the most part I do,” answered Mozeliak. “Based on what he’s done so far, I think we all feel pretty confident that’s capable of being part of a five-man.”
The 6’7″ right-hander again worked hard on adding muscle during the off-season to build up not just his scapula/shoulder but his entire frame.
“I’m real happy with the way my body feels and how my arm feels,” said Wacha. “I think my core, my legs–the whole body is stronger. It definitely starts with your base and being able to be under control and being able repeat your delivery. It’s still a grind, constant work at it–playing catch and working on bullpens, but it’s headed in the right direction.”
He now requires only a slight change to his recovery routine.
“In between starts, I’m not throwing the next day,” shared Wacha. “I’m taking off the next day from throwing, just giving the arm a little break and then light toss the next day. Workouts and stuff, pretty much the same. Just staying on top of the arm care and the workouts. I think I’ll be able to stay strong.”
The question will remain for the entire season–maybe longer. Doctors don’t have an answer, let alone Wacha as to if or what could cause the scapular stress reaction to return. But all parties involved feel good about his current situation.
“The key for us is just the feedback you get from him,” said Mozeliak. “If there is something that should come up that would require an MRI or more medical research, then we would certainly do it but right now he’s feeling strong, he has a lot of confidence in what he’s doing, and it’s certainly translated to success on the mound.”
photo credit: Kim Klement, Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports