It’s been quite the year around Michael Wacha thus far. Long before his nearly historic outing last night, the rookie righty has put together an enticing showing in his first rodeo, one that is just getting started. The reward for the pick that Pujols brought to St. Louis, is quickly establishing himself in the fashion that was so eagerly awaited since nearly his first day with the team this spring.
The most impressive things on the surface level for Wacha are the hard fastball, which and the fast rise that it has afforded from college to the Majors in under a year. Yet, as last night’s performance has showcased, it is the poise that is his greatest ally. Balancing upper 90’s fastballs with strategic placement both in the zone and offsetting them with a changeup that he deploys with the knowledge of a hurler 10 years his senior is one thing, but handling the breaks was the most impressive part of his outing last night.
After missing his chance at becoming the third Cardinal rookie to throw a no-hitter in as many of the memorable outings as the franchise has hosted, his demeanor told the story of where he was. Despite missing finishing his fantastic effort by inches, as Ryan Zimmerman’s heart-breaking single bounced through the infield, he did not make a big deal of the situation. He held his head steady as he was removed from the game after that 112th and final pitch, and took a convincing approach to the “failed” outing, which in actually won a crucial series for the club.
While the concern with young hurlers is if they can stand up to pressure of the moment, a closer look at Wacha’s year shows another encouraging factor in his readiness for the postseason. While batters have hit .281 on his pitches 51-75, he does his best work after passing that point, with opposing batters having to .167/.210/.190 split from pitches 76-112. It’s that fortitude that makes him a promising option for the type of arduous games ahead.
The levity of the no-hitter wasn’t his focus, as much was delivering a solid start in a tight game, as well as keeping it in focus. The magic number for clinching the National League Central, and thus avoiding the trap of the Wild Card Game, was in need of yet another strong outing, which he delivered unequivocally. As he relayed to MLB.com’s Jennifer Langosch, he accomplished what he set out for:
#stlcards Michael Wacha: “The whole goal going out tonight was to get a win, and I was able to do that tonight. It was a pretty fun night.”
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) September 25, 2013
That focus is what can make him as much of an asset as the fastball, the eye-popping compliment pitches and the imposing 6’6 frame packaging it all. In a clear cut sense of this, the disappointment from teammates such as David Freese and Pete Kozma, both of celebrated postseason form, was far more evident than his own. And while without a doubt, he will have a time where he runs the scenario back through his mind, his poise in a personal defeat, yet team victory says a lot about what he can bring to the team in the upcoming week when every game hinges on such major moments.