If the Cardinals' bullpen woes continue, it's going to be difficult for the club not to turn to Memphis hurler Michael Wacha as a potential reinforcement.
Yes, Wacha is 21 and only at the beginning of his first full season as a professional pitcher. But, after storming through the minors last year from Rookie League all the way up to Class AA Springfield, he's dominating at the Class AAA level.
It gets to the point when you have to wonder what the guy has left to prove in the minors.
Wacha is 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA for the Memphis Redbirds, St. Louis' top farm system. He seemed to take a couple of games to acclimate himself to the high minors, giving up five runs over nine innings in his first two starts. Since then, he's dominated with back-to-back seven-inning starts. During those 14 frames he gave up six hits and one run.
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Walks seemed to be Wacha's trouble in his early work. He issued four free passes in four innings during his first start. Since then he's struck out 12 and walked five in 19 innings.
The 6-foot-6 righty has shown that he's not afraid of facing tough hitters, impressing during an extended run against major leaguers at spring training.
Would it be better to let him keep making starts in the minors or to bring Wacha up to the big leagues to work in a middle relief role? Then Joe Kelly can move toward the back end of games, perhaps pitching the seventh in place of new closer Edward Mujica.
It's important that teams don't rush kids to the big leagues. But if they're mentally ready and getting results, which don't seem to be problems for Wacha, it can benefit young players to rub elbows with bona fide major league players. It's a good thing for them to be able to learn how to handle the pressures, prepare themselves and, generally, just act like they belong in the majors.
Once upon a time it was part of the growth process for a pitcher to come to the majors as a reliever as they worked their way up to the starting rotation. Although that doesn't happen as much as it used to, the Cardinals have had quite a bit of success with both Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn, hurlers who came to the majors as relievers before joining the rotation.