Wacha and manager Mike Matheny were both highly encouraged by the pitcher's bullpen session Wednesday, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports. "That's as good as I've seen him in a long time," Matheny said. "Right now, we don't look so much at the end result as much as how all the components look. He looked, to me, as right as I've seen him in a long time. I think he just looks stronger."
The 25-year-old, who was limited to 24 starts in 2016 due to a right shoulder stress reaction, spent all winter attempting to strengthen his body so as to significantly reduce the chances of the problem returning. Wacha had endured the same injury in 2014, which led to a stint on the disabled list, and altered his offseason regimen accordingly so as to concentrate on strengthening all of the weaker areas of his body. Wacha reported feeling the positive effects of that training in his Wednesday throwing session, reporting that his arm was "able to move freely and without any pain". The timing for his increasingly improving condition could hardly be better, considering that Wacha is now the leading candidate for the fifth starter role that was vacated due to top prospect Alex Reyes' elbow injury, which will require season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Wacha lost his arbitration hearing on Tuesday and will receive $2.775 million for the 2017 season, FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reports.
He was asking for $3.2 million, but the arbiter likely took notice of his inability to log more than 138 innings in two of the last three seasons and sided with the team. Wacha's role for 2017 is up in the air, as there has been talk of him being developed into a super reliever in the Andrew Miller mold. However, Alex Reyes needed an MRI on his pitching arm Tuesday, and any injuries to starters ahead of Wacha on the depth chart could result in him starting the year in the rotation.
Wacha could be used as a super reliever in 2017, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold reports.
He is preparing this winter to start, taking part in an aggressive program to add 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, but the writing is on the wall. Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, Lance Lynn and Alex Reyes all figure to be ahead of Wacha in the pecking order, and Jaime Garcia and Luke Weaver also loom as rotation options. Trevor Rosenthal is being stretched out, with a possible role as a multi-inning reliever in the Andrew Miller mold, and Wacha seems to be the Cardinals' other experimental option in that role. He has the stuff to be dynamic in multi-inning stints out of the bullpen, so all is not lost from a fantasy perspective, and he could still end up starting, so his value is very fluid at the moment.
Manager Mike Matheny said the Cardinals still view Wacha as a starting pitcher despite injury and performance concerns in 2016, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The club may consider revising his mechanics or having Wacha put on "15 to 20 more pounds of muscle", in Matheny's words, to help him better adapt to a full season of starter work.
They've also debated simply making him a reliever permanently, but they want to extract more value out of him. The 25-year-old's frustrating combination of durability issues and high ceiling makes him worth watching this offseason. Also deserving attention is how a potentially crowded group of St. Louis rotation options will fare come late March.
Wacha didn't factor into the decision against the Pirates on Saturday and pitched poorly during his brief time on the mound, giving up three earned runs on two hits and a walk over an inning. He also recorded a strikeout.
The veteran right-hander was on a short leash given the importance of the game for the Cardinals. He threw 29 pitches in a first inning that saw him give up a three-run blast to Jung-Ho Kang, putting St. Louis in an early hole that they eventually recovered from. Wacha wraps up an injury-riddled 2016 regular season with a 7-7 record, along with a bloated 1.48 WHIP and 5.09 ERA that both represent career worsts.
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