Cardinals turn to rookie SP Wacha for Game 2

Cardinals turn to rookie SP Wacha for Game 2
October 24, 2013, 12:45 pm
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BOSTON – Just one game into the 2013 World Series and it has come to this for the Cardinals: 22-year-old rookie right-hander Michael Wacha must be their stopper in Game 2 after they were thumped, 8-1, by the Red Sox in Game 1 Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
 
Wacha, who made his big league debut on May 31, made 15 appearances, including nine starts, for the Cardinals this season, going 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.098 WHIP. He is undefeated in three postseason starts, with a 0.43 ERA, allowing just one run over 21 innings. In the decisive Game 6 of the NLCS against the Dodgers he bested Los Angeles ace and 2011 National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
 
Wacha has been on the fast track since the Cardinals took him with the 19th overall pick out of Texas A&M in 2012.
 
“I think everybody is surprised when a young player doesn't go the typical route,” said Cards manager Mike Matheny. “What we first noticed was in spring training, the stuff was pretty obvious.  The makeup, it kind of takes some time to watch.  And when you put him in situations with the other players, and just see how they respond, and he went about it perfectly.

“We did know that he had some things, hurdles that he had to get over.  One was at least getting to the Triple‑A level and starting and going through a lineup and seeing how hitters adjusted, and he continued to answer any questions we had. Then once we had him here, we put him in big positions and he made pitches.  And it was pretty obvious at that point.”
 
Wacha made two starts against the Dodgers in the NLCS, holding their potent lineup scoreless over 13 2/3 innings with seven hits and two walks (one intentional) with 13 strikeouts.
 
“Michael's stuff is above average, mostly because it's a little different,” Matheny said. “He comes from such a high slot, that he's getting a deeper angle on his pitches.  I believe he has an above‑average change‑up and a breaking ball that is on its way to that classification, also.

“But he executes pitches, that's really what it comes down to.  He's a guy that can throw into the high 90s, which puts him in a different group all by himself.  But he locates.  He's got a good feel for when he needs to use different portions of the plate, when he needs to expand the zone.  And those are things that are really tough to teach a young pitcher.”
 
There are other things, though, that can’t be taught. Things like pitching in your first World Series, a little more than 15 months removed since legally being able to sip any celebratory champagne. Things like not getting caught up in off-field distractions, like having a milkshake at a St. Louis-area restaurant named after you.
 
“I'm just trying not to think too much about it, just trying to approach every game the same,” said Wacha, who, like Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, hails from Texarkana, Texas, where the two were high school rivals and summer ball teammates.
 
“Trying not to get too caught up in the moment. I'm sure after the season I'll be able to look back and think about, 'hey, I pitched in the World Series' and that kind of stuff. So, you know, right now just trying to get focused on the next start coming up [Thursday night] and just go from there.
 
“I didn't really know what day I was going to be pitching. Mike told me just the other day that I was going to get Game 2. But I'm pretty excited about it. Pretty excited about pitching here in Fenway, as well. I mean this lineup that Boston has, it's a good lineup, a lot of power, a lot of speed. They battle up at the plate. You just have to make effective pitches and just attack them, don't give them free base runners, and just attack the zone and make effective pitches against them.”
 
And now he will need to quiet that potent Sox lineup, if the Cards are to avoid returning to St. Louis down 0-2.
 
“I want the ball in big situations,” Wacha said. “There's none bigger than the World Series.  And so I'm excited about getting it and I think every guy on our team wants the ball in these kind of situations. And we have so many competitors on our team, it's just been fun to watch and I look forward to the series.”