In 2013 Michael Wacha looked like a man among boys.
He went 4-1 after getting called up from Memphis before topping that with a 3-0 record in the playoffs, where he nearly pitched a no-hitter on the road in a hostile PNC park.
Fast forward to 2016 and it’s a completely a different story.
Wacha has struggled to find the win column and has had an even tougher time finding the strike zone. In 10 starts he’s 2-5 with a 5.04 ERA. His strikeout-to-walks ratio is a career low 2.18 (that’s not a good thing) and he’s given up five home runs and it’s not even June.
It’s hardly the way he wanted to come off an All-Star 2015 season with a record of 17-7 and 153 punch-outs.
It’s becoming a concern. It’s not a fluke game that he’s bounced back from.
Wacha started the year with a rough outing against Pittsburgh, where the Pirates tallied 10 hits and four runs to knock him out after a short 4 1/3 innings.
He bounced back by picking up wins in two of his next three outings, lasting six innings each time out.
Then it fell apart. Since that April 23 victory against San Diego, he’s 0-5 in six starts with a 7.27 ERA in the month of May.
In Michael Wacha’s last four starts, he’s 0-3 with a 10.00 ERA and 30 hits in 18 innings
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) May 25, 2016
My first thought looking at this situation is “Where is Dave Duncan when you need him?” Duncan was a mastermind at helping pitchers escape a funk. Whether it was Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, Matt Morris, or Kyle Loshe he always found away to tweak mechanics or change the pitching sequence to turn an average pitcher into a solid one.
He’s also developed guys into ace pitchers, like Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. When Wacha came up from the minors and took the national stage by storm, he drew comparisons to his fellow southern teammate.
Fans thought he was going to develop into a top of the rotation pitcher and eventually be Wainwright’s replacement. It was made all the sweeter by the fact that the Cardinals selected Wacha in the draft with the Angels pick, given up to acquire Albert Pujols.
Could he return to the promising young stud pitcher he once appeared on track to be? It’s very possible seeing as he’s only 25.
It appears to be a mechanical issue with Wacha, something he can hopefully fix. This past week against Chicago was arguably his worst performance of the year. He tried to overcompensate location issues, which only resulted in disastrous first inning.
“I feel like I’m on time for an inning, two innings. Then something gets out of whack,” Wacha said. “I don’t know if I’m trying too hard, but I have to stay within myself and continue working down in the zone,” Wacha said after the 10-1 loss.
He’ll have to tried hard to fix it because right now, the Cardinals can’t afford to keep going to their bullpen as much as they have.
At no point should the manager have to warm up relief pitchers in the first inning as was the case against Chicago. Tyler Lyons has already been overworked as it is. Carlos Martinez has struggled of late go deep into games as well.
The Cardinals simply need their starters to go deeper into games if they want to have a fighting chance come September. Chicago, Washington, and Los Angeles aren’t going to do them any favors and each of those teams posses championship caliber rotations.
A consistent outing from the starters on back-to-back nights will help free up the bullpen. It would also help the rotation guys to develop a bit of confidence heading into the meat of the season.
It’s a mental game more than anything else and if Wacha can figure out his issues mechanically, he’ll be able to regain some confidence out on the mound.
Here’s an interesting read about Wacha’s mechanics. It delves deeper into release points and velocity, which I think is a big reason pitchers struggle so much today and what could be the root of Wacha’s problem. Trying to overpower batters.
Batters these days can hit fastballs anywhere from 95-103 mph. Naturally pitchers are trying to overcompensate by throwing harder and nastier stuff, which a lot of times results in flawed mechanics or worse, serious injury.
Wacha did suffer a shoulder injury, which sidelined him for a portion of time in 2014. Whether its the tentativeness of him trying to redefine his pitching style or something bigger, Wacha needs to figure it out otherwise it may be time to start looking elsewhere.
I don’t like the whole idea of skipping starts because it throws pitchers out of whack, but if he needs a game or two to figure things out I am not opposed to that. I would rather him get a rest now than have Matheny skip his start later in the season when he’s pitching well.
All things aside, it’s a long season and we’re not even a third of the way through yet.