---- — Wacha has work cut out for him
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Michael Wacha has some tough acts to follow, given St. Louis Cardinals rookie pitchers have already combined for 12 victories.
Less than a year after the Cardinals drafted him in the first round out of Texas A&M, the team’s top pitching prospect believes he’s ready — even though he’s on the fast track due to necessity.
“I’m fresh and I’m ready to go. I’m here to stay,” Wacha said before Wednesday night’s game against the Royals.
The 21-year-old right-hander was 4-0 and led the Pacific Coast League with a 2.05 ERA. The Cardinals wanted Wacha to get more minor league experience, so they called up less-celebrated John Gast and Tyler Lyons the first two times they needed to plug in a starter.
Wacha said he didn’t mind repeatedly getting left behind.
“I’m sure they wanted me to get more innings down there,” Wacha said. “Unfortunately, things happened up here with the injuries and stuff. I don’t know how to put it, but I guess it was just my time.”
Wacha will be the team’s eighth rookie pitcher to appear this year and third to debut as a starter Thursday night against the Royals in place of Gast, who is out with a shoulder injury. During a media scrum that accompanied the heightened expectations, Wacha mentioned the word fun a lot and didn’t seem concerned.
Taking note of the attention, manager Mike Matheny borrowed from John Tudor, an often irascible pitcher in the 1980s and ‘90s for St. Louis, when he said, “Obviously, we did restrict the number of media passes today.”
“There’s going to hype.”
Wacha is the team’s fastest pitcher to make his debut after the draft in a quarter century since Cris Carpenter was a first-rounder in 1987 and made his debut in May 14, 1988.
The Cardinals plan on keeping the work load manageable for the 6-6, 210-pounder, but haven’t disclosed an innings threshold.
“We’ll figure it out in time and not give him too much to worry about except the next pitch he has to throw,” Matheny said. “We feel like we have his best interest in our minds.”
The team said it will have the majors’ youngest rotation with average age of 25 and including 22-year-old rookie Shelby Miller, who’s 5-3 with a 2.02 ERA. Four pitchers are on the 15-day disabled list.
Lyons is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA, allowing a run in seven innings both of his games, and Gast is 2-0 with a 5.11 ERA in three starts. Rookie reliever Seth Maness is 4-1 with a 1.59 ERA and another top prospect, Carlos Martinez, was sent down to Memphis to build up innings in case they need him to start, too.
“When they show up, they’re ready,” Matheny said. “They’re not overwhelmed.”
One reporter recalled Wacha saying in spring training that his goal was not to make the major leagues, but to win games in World Series.
“Just set the goals high,” Wacha said. “I guess that’s the reason. It always gives you something to strive for.”
Chris Carpenter has yet to pitch while rehabbing from a nerve issue on the right side of his body. Jaime Garcia is out for the year following shoulder surgery and Jake Westbrook has been sidelined with right elbow inflammation since early May.
Westbrook cancelled a visit to Dr. James Andrews Monday when he made dramatic improvement during a bullpen session. He believes he’ll need two rehab starts when he’s ready to take that step.