In 2014, Michael Wacha was shut down with a scapular stress injury and missed half the season. In 2015, Wacha made 30 starts and pitched 181.1 innings, but in 13 starts after the All-Star break, Wacha put up a 4.01 ERA and a poor 4.93 FIP and only pitched past the fifth inning in one of his last six starts, including postseason. Last year, after a half-dozen rough starts after the All-Star break, Wacha was shut down, and pitched out of the pen in September. Perhaps, hoping to mitigate some of the risk with Wacha’s shoulder, the Cardinals are skipping a start.
Per a #STLCards spokesperson, the team is skipping Michael Wacha this time through the rotation to give him extra rest.— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) May 11, 2017
In the offseason, there was some talk about putting Wacha in the bullpen, letting him go a couple innings at a time. That was before Alex Reyes went down for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Wacha then pitched well in spring, cementing his role as starter.
Wacha has pitched well this season, with a 3.41 FIP and 3.19 ERA. He has struck out 34 batters in 36.2 innings against just nine walks. His velocity is the best its been in years though the last two starts were a bit lower than earlier in the season. He’s gone at least six innings in every start and thrown a quality five out of six times. There’s nothing in his performance that would necessitate a skipped start, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
The Cardinals organization perhaps rightly believes there are only so many innings in Wacha’s arm in a given season. Wacha’s performance the past few seasons would seem to back up this premise. If that’s the case, it makes a lot of sense to get Wacha a break right now. The Cardinals have three off days, including today, over the next week with a fourth off-day coming on Monday the 22nd. The team can skip Wacha’s start and still get most of the staff an extra day off.
With the Cardinals’ recent rainouts, the summer is going to be difficult to navigate. Right now, the Cardinals don’t have a sixth starter who looks ready to step in right away. Luke Weaver is just back from an injury of his own. Tyler Lyons is rehabbing. Jack Flaherty is pitching great, but he’s still down in Double-A. Trevor Rosenthal is now a fixture in the bullpen. If the Cardinals can prolong the need for anothe starter a little bit later into the season, it would be a worthwhile measure.
Whether skipping starts in the middle of the season is something that actually works remains to be seen and we aren’t going to get a clearer picture of the strategy based on how Wacha does moving forward. It might well be better for a player like Wacha to pitch every five days and that skipping a start doesn’t help anything at all. Of course, that’s what the team tried last year and it didn’t really work. They tried skipping a start in 2015, but it might have been too late in the season to do so.
Michael Wacha has a lot of talent and he’s been pitching well this season. Any plan to try and keep him pitching well later on in the season seems like pretty sound strategy.