Wacha can't kick command issues as Cards fall short in Tampa Bay

How do you know Michael Wacha struggled with his command in the Cardinals' 6-3 loss to the Rays on Wednesday night? For the first time in his young career, he failed to record a strikeout.

Michael Wacha had a hard time locating his fastball on Wednesday night.  

Mike Carlson / AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Start with an off night by Michael Wacha, add an inability to come up with the timely hit and top if off with what Mike Matheny called a Superman play by Rays right fielder Kevin Kiermaier. The result: a 6-3 loss to the Rays and a disappointing finish to a 4-3 trip through the American League for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals took an early 3-0 lead before the Rays came back with four runs in the fourth, the rally starting on an excuse-me swing that resulted in their first hit, a one-out opposite-field single by James Loney. Before the inning was over, they would have the lead.

The Cardinals, despite putting at least one runner on in each of the first seven innings, were only able to score two in the third and one in the fourth. They left 11 runners on for the night.

They came close to scoring three in the fifth when Peter Bourjos smoked a line drive to the right-center gap with the bases loaded. But Kiermaier, a 31st-round draft pick who is playing right field because of an injury to 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, had another idea. As Bourjos said, Kiermaier "came out of nowhere" to make a leaping catch that ended the inning, assured him a spot on the nightly highlight reels and left the Cardinals short of the kind of trip they needed.

They left one game over .500 and five behind the Brewers, and will return two over and five back

Manager Mike Matheny's assessment: "We had a good series in Toronto. Kansas City we weren't playing our best baseball. Today was just one of those days and yesterday was a day we had to fight. Overall, we're just going to be happy to get home."

The Cardinals will have their second day off this week before opening a three-game set against the Nationals at Busch Stadium on Friday.

3 UP

-- Yadier Molina. His two-run, two-out, two-strike single to right ended his 13-game skid without an RBI and gave the Cardinals a third-inning lead that, given the Rays' recent offensive struggles, seemed like it might be enough for Wacha.

-- Mark Ellis. Getting the start against lefty Erik Bedard, Ellis had one of his best games as a Cardinal, reaching base three times on two singles and a walk. Unfortunately for him, his hardest hit ball of the night -- a hard one-hopper to short -- ended up as an out that ended the seventh inning.

-- Seth Maness. For only the fourth time in 24 outings this season, he did not allow a hit or a base runner. Maness entered with two on and two out in the seventh and retired pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe on a pop to short, then he struck out two in a three-up, three-down eighth.


-- Michael Wacha. For the second straight start, the wiry right-hander struggled with his command. This time, he paid. Wacha walked four in his five-inning outing, including the 8- and 9-hole hitters in the fourth when the Rays ended a franchise-record scoreless streak at 31 2/3 innings. Almost as concerning: Wacha did not strike out a batter for the first time in his young career.

"Just wasn't very good at all," Wacha said. "At times I felt like I was trying to get too much on the ball. I just didn't know where it was going at that point."

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Wacha's struggles stemmed from not being able to keep his fastball down in the zone, which he needs to do to make his changeup a swing-and-miss pitch.

"It looked like he was really strong, almost a little jumpy," Matheny said. "He just couldn't find that slot. We saw very few strikes with the fastball in the bottom of the zone to make the changeup as good as it can be."

-- Tropicana Field. It doesn't make the down cut because of its small crowds and dank dome. It's actually quite enjoyable to hear thunder rumbling outside while they play on inside. But if you're a power hitter, this place is not much fun. The ball did not seem to carry, especially to right-center gap. Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk were among those who hit balls during the two-games series that appeared to have a real chance to go a long ways but ended up as warning-track outs.

-- Oscar's time. Though the prized prospect has not been overmatched by big-league pitchers, Taveras hasn't exactly set the baseball world on fire, either. He's hitting .189 and has only one RBI since his debut homer. Because he still needs everyday at-bats, don't be surprised if Taveras returns to Memphis when Matt Adams comes off the disabled list, which could be as soon as Friday. 

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.

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