Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wacha Springs through First Start, Looks Up for More Outs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wacha Springs through First Start, Looks Up for More Outs

Article excerpt

FORT MYERS, Fla. * With his reach and the steep angle of his fastball when it cuts down into the strike zone at its best Cardinals starter Michael Wacha has made a career by aiming down, down, down.

"I'm trying to hit the catcher right in his knees," the righthander said. "Every fastball I throw I'm thinking down in the zone."

This spring, the Cardinals want him looking up.

In his first start of spring training, Wacha had the outing his peers wanted with two brisk, scoreless innings Monday. He held the Minnesota Twins to one walk while getting outs on three groundouts and three flyouts. After back-to-back days when Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas had misbehaving fastballs and allowed a combined 12 base-runners and seven runs in three innings neither finished the second Wacha's outing was downright breezy.

The first three batters didn't get a ball past the infield dirt, and the next three saw 95 mph and a diving changeup. And, he elevated a few fastballs.

"It's even more common knowledge now how good he is at the bottom of the zone," manager Mike Matheny said. "To then try and elevate, there is an art to it. It's almost like a completely different pitch to throw that high one. So far, what we're seeing is Miles is trying to come up. He's been down, down, down. Trying to come up. It's a tough pitch to execute on a consistent basis because it's higher risk. But there is also a high reward."

The Cardinals, under new pitching coach Mike Maddux's guidance, have had all of their pitchers working on the elevated fastball , trying to get them proficient with it.

Of the starters, Wacha has the angle of his pitch that could be the hardest to translate to the top shelf, but he also could get significant benefit. The elevated fastball should come from the same release as his curve at 20 mph faster.

"I know it looks enticing to hitters," he said.

Wacha retired the first three batters he faced on ground balls, and in the second inning Kennys Vargas took an inviting changeup to set up his walk. The next two batters popped up, and those are results Wacha could get with the high fastball, if not some velocity-driven strikeouts.

The righthander is coming off an assertive season that saw him avoid a chronic shoulder issue and make 30 starts for 165 2/3 innings. He intends to use the same regimen that worked last season, which includes throwing a bullpen session on the third day after a start and not throwing at all the day after a start. He made the point that's "a month off" for his arm.

Martinez worked around three walks as he failed to find his rhythm Saturday. Mikolas' fastball had helium Sunday and got tagged for six runs. Wacha's first start was superior, and his situation is right in the middle of those two somewhere between only preparing and absolutely competing for a role. …

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