Michael Wacha has proven he can be an effective major-league pitcher. His problem has been maintaining the health in his right arm and shoulder.
Wacha, 25, is trending up in the early stages of St. Louis Cardinals spring-training camp. He threw three shutout innings Wednesday in a 9-3 victory over Washington, and hasn’t yet allowed a run in three starts and eight innings.
“I don’t really think too much about that,” Wacha said of the 0.00 ERA. “You can give up earned runs and still be making pitches. You don’t like giving up runs, but I feel like if you’re still making pitches – and making quality pitches – that’s what’s the most important.”
But to make pitches, it’s all about health. In two of the past three seasons, Wacha has experienced a stress fracture in his right scapula. He missed more than a month in 2016.
With Alex Reyes sidelined for the season after Tommy John surgery, it’s more important than ever that Wacha remains a durable part of a right-handed rotation that also includes ace Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake and Lance Lynn.
“All I can say is my arm feels good right now,” said Wacha, who yielded two hits, walked one and struck out three Wednesday. “I’ve just got to stay on top of it, stay locked into it, keep working out, stay strong and keep going. But everything right now is feeling real good. I didn’t (check) the velocity out there today. I just know it feels good whenever I’m letting loose, letting it go. I’m real happy with the way my arm feels and my body feels.”
That’s music to the Cardinals’ ears.
“Michael was so good today,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “The ball was jumping (out of his hand); you could see that. To me, that’s another sign of how he feels. The task is, ‘How do we keep him there?’ because where he is looks great.”
Wacha said his changeup, still considered among the best in the game, can become more effective if he has velocity and command of his fastball.
“(The changeup) had good action on it today. It’s working well off the fastball. That’s exactly what I want,” said Wacha, who also threw curveballs and cutters.
“Whenever the fastball is working down in the zone, you can work the changeup off it, and you can work the cutter off it. But whenever the fastball is up in the zone and (the hitters) see a changeup down in the zone, they’re just going to spit on it and not even really offer at it. I try to establish working down in the zone and working other pitches off them.”
Wacha, who was 7-7 with a 5.09 ERA last season, never has put much stock in spring-training performances. He’s more interested in fulfilling the need to be available six months rather than three or four.
“It’s not just so I can feel good right now; it’s so I can feel good late in the season,” Wacha said. “It feels good whenever your arm’s feeling good.”