KANSAS CITY, Mo. — John Mozeliak can hear the salivating along I-70 already.
First-round draft pick Michael Wacha, the brightest jewel in a glimmering St. Louis Cardinals farm system, Mr. Untouchable at Triple-A Memphis, is finally on his way. And slated to make his Major League debut Thursday against the slumping Kansas City Royals.
Mozeliak’s message? Down, boy. Dowwwwwwn.
“The key thing is, from my perspective, is we just have to manage expectations a little bit,” Cardinals general manager said late Tuesday afternoon, before his team’s second leg of a four-tilt, home-and-home interleague series with Kansas City.
“(Wacha is) a year removed from college, and he’s been (thrust) into a very competitive division, with, I think, a lot of expectations being put on him. And I don’t know how fair that’s going to be. And so I just think people need to be patient.”
Wacha, 21, was selected with the 19th pick overall last June out of Teas A&M, and the big right-hander has crushed it at each minor-league stop ever since. Last summer, between Rookie ball and Double-A, 40 strikeouts in 21 innings. In nine starts with Memphis this spring, a 4-0 record, a 2.05 ERA and a WHIP of 0.95.
Meanwhile, arms on the Cards’ big-league rotation have been dropping like flies, with starters Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Jamie Garcia and John Gast shelved with injuries — forcing an accelerated timetable for one of the system’s most intriguing prospects.
“In an ideal world, we would not have to go down this path,” Mozeliak continued. “Due to all the injuries, we do need some help, and he has certainly been our best pitcher (and) starter in Triple-A.”
Regardless of where Wacha pitches the rest of the way, the plan is to keep his overall innings this season in the 150-ish range, ideally, to avoid wear and tear. The young Texan has already logged 52 2/3 innings with Memphis.
In other words: Patience, young Jedi. Patience.
Mozeliak said if Wacha were to remain with the big club, long-term, he’d “probably receive approximately 22 starts. If you’re doing five innings per start, it would probably work in terms of not putting in danger. Having said that, if we get some of our pitchers back healthy and we can skip starts to protect him, then we’re going to be open (to that).”
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