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Wacha puts health concerns to rest, becomes Cardinals’ acting ace

At the beginning of the season, the biggest questions surrounding St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha concerned if he could stay healthy and, if so, whether he would ever again be as good as he was during his rookie season.

Now the biggest question about his 2015 campaign is about if he can keep up his stellar first third of the season and make a serious bid for the National League Cy Young Award.

Wacha improved to 8-1 with a dominating victory Thursday night on the road against the Los Angeles Dodgers. That tied him for the NL lead in wins with eight.

Wacha is fifth among qualifying starters with a 2.18 earned run average. He’d rank higher and be below the 2.00 mark had he not been left in too long during his previous start to surrender a three-run homer when he was obviously out of gas.

Wacha is eighth among Senior Circuit starters with a 1.04 walks and hits allowed per inning and only John Lackey has more innings pitched this season for St. Louis. Lackey has thrown 70 2/3. Wacha has thrown 1/3 less.

The fantastic performance is especially important to the Redbirds because the team lost ace Adam Wainwright to a season-ending injury. If the season were over next week and St. Louis was setting up its rotation for a playoff series, Wacha would be the obvious candidate to draw the game one start.

It amazes me that a guy who is so young can be so fearless and composed. Nothing seems to phase Wacha. He’s got the guts and guile of a crusty, old veteran and the physical strength of youth in one package.

What a find he has been for the Cardinals.

When Wainwright signed his current contract, a few naysayers argued that he was too old for a long deal so he was apt to decline.

While, prior to his freak injury suffered while hitting, Wainwright had crafted a couple of excellent seasons, his value beyond his work on the mound is seen in the mentoring of Wacha.

If you disregard the number on his back, Wacha appears to be a clone of Wainwright when he’s pitching. They have the same tall and lean frame, the same posture and mechanics and the same big-game mentality.

Hopefully, the Cardinals plans to strengthen Wacha’s shoulder with exercises designed to prevent a recurrence of the stress reaction that kept him out last year will work and he’ll be able continue to reach toward his sky-high potential.

But, no matter what happens, he’s been a whole lot of fun to watch so far.

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