Pitching was vital to the St. Louis Cardinals winning 100 games and a third straight NL Central title last year. It's not going as smoothly on the mound in 2016, but Michael Wacha's latest effort provided a glimmer of hope.
After ace Adam Wainwright was battered for a second straight start, Wacha will try to continue his dominance of the Cincinnati Reds as the Cardinals try to take this three-game set Sunday.
St. Louis (6-5) led the majors with a 2.94 ERA last season, the franchise's lowest since a 2.49 mark in 1968 - "The Year of the Pitcher."
So far, the Cardinals aren't anywhere near that effective, sporting a 4.12 ERA - and the rotation compiling a 4.98 mark.
Wainwright isn't helping with his 8.27 ERA through three starts after missing all but seven games last year with a torn left Achilles. He struggled again Saturday, surrendering seven runs and 10 hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 9-8 loss to Cincinnati (6-5).
Wacha can sympathize since he gave up five runs and 10 hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 6-5 loss in 11 at Pittsburgh in his season debut April 5. The right-hander, though, followed that up with seven strikeouts in six scoreless innings of a 10-1 win over Milwaukee on Monday.
"I was able to locate the fastball down in the zone on both sides of the plate," said Wacha, who had a career-high 17 wins last year. "I made too many mistakes last week and I was trying to stay under control."
Mistakes have been rare for Wacha against the Reds, beating them in four straight starts with a 1.37 ERA and limiting them to a .183 batting average.
While the Cardinals try to improve on the mound, they're among the best offensive teams in baseball with a .281 average and 7.4 runs per game.
Aledmys Diaz has been a key contributor with a .406 average, eight RBIs and 10 runs. The rookie shortstop is 4 for 10 with a homer, a double, three RBIs and four runs in this series.
The Reds are looking to build on their season highs of 15 hits and nine doubles, raising their season average 15 points to .260.
Zack Cozart has a season-opening seven-game hitting streak, matching his personal best set in the first seven of his career in 2011. The shortstop is 12 for 25 during the current run, which includes going 5 for 8 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs in this series.
Jon Moscot will be activated from the disabled list in order to take the mound for the first time since separating his non-throwing shoulder at Detroit on June 15, ending his season with a 1-1 record and 4.63 ERA in three starts.
Following recovery from surgery, the right-hander was expected to win a spot in the rotation during spring training. However, he strained his intercostal muscle during batting practice and landed on the DL.
Moscot, who still qualifies as a rookie, was positive following a pair of minor-league starts. He tossed 3 2-3 scoreless innings April 7 before allowing five runs with six strikeouts in 5 2-3 on Tuesday.
"Going into the offseason, I was worried I wouldn't be as sharp as I left off last season," Moscot told MLB's official website. "But after my last outing, some things mechanically really clicked for me, and I started to feel as comfortable, if not more comfortable, than I was toward the end of last season when I was throwing the ball well. I'm really excited to get out there and do what I do."