Michael Wacha gave up just two hits, one run, and recorded six strikeouts in his debut. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Before getting too excited about the major league debut of Cardinals righty Michael Wacha on Thursday night, it’s worth pointing out that he was pitching against the Kansas City Royals, a team so dysfunctional on offense that it had demoted its hitting coaches to the minor leagues earlier in the day.
With that disclaimer out of the way, there is no doubt that Wacha, a 21-year-old righty who was the 19th pick in last year’s draft, turned in a performance even better than could have been expected. Relying mostly on a filthy changeup and a fastball in the mid-90s, he struck out the first batter he faced, retired the first 13 Royals hitters and left after seven innings, having set down the side in order in six of them. Oh yes, he also picked up a single in his first at-bat.
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Wacha’s final line was filled with impressive numbers – seven innings, two hits, one run, no walks and six strikeouts – but was missing a very important letter: W. He had to settle for a no-decision after St. Louis reliever Mitchell Boggs blew the 2-1 lead he’d been entrusted with when Jeff Francoeur homered to start the top of the ninth. The Royals went ahead later in the inning and were still batting with a 4-2 advantage when heavy rains forced a delay.
Long after the outcome of this particular game is forgotten, however, Wacha’s performance will be remembered. He is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending line of Cardinals pitchers with dominant stuff, and he was so good that he may have forced his way into the rotation on a more regular basis. With Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook on the disabled list, there are opportunities aplenty in the Cardinals rotation. St. Louis has gotten starts from seven different pitchers this year, two of whom (the aforementioned Garcia and Westbrook) are on the DL and four of whom are rookies. Three of those first-year players -- Wacha, Tyler Lyons and John Gast – have made their big league debuts this season.
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Despite relying on such inexperienced arms, the Cards lead the majors by a wide-margin in starters’ ERA (2.61 entering Thursday; the Reds were second at 3.19) while also ranking first in winning percentage and innings pitched. Not surprisingly, they also lead the majors in the category that matters most: wins.