ST. LOUIS — Michael Wacha’s face twisted up like his words tasted sour. The rookie right-hander hadn’t been hit this hard since, well, he couldn’t really seem to remember off the top of his head.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “It’s going to happen, I guess, sooner or later. I’ve got stuff to work on.”
This did have to happen at some point, didn’t it? The 21-year-old who made the path to the major leagues look like a cakewalk would eventually stumble, or struggle, or give some sign this professional baseball thing really isn’t as easy as he had been making it seem.
It didn’t happen in his first start, the wacky and rain-soaked event that slogged through 5 1/2 hours of delays before it ended in a Cardinals loss. Wacha received a no-decision, but it should have been a win. His performance — seven innings pitched, two hits, one run and six strikeouts— was excellent.
And in the earliest stages of his second start, which came against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, it looked like Wacha might be working on his encore.
He struck out three of four batters in the first inning, surrendering a hit that really wasn’t a hit at all. Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma botched a ground ball hit by Didi Gregorious, and should have received an error for doing so. Instead, Gregorious was credited with a single. This error-or-hit discussion would have grown if Wacha had continued to cruise.
What if that hit was the only one he happened to give up this game?
Wouldn’t that be rotten?
Those questions quickly became silly, because the Diamondbacks stopped whiffing and started smashing Wacha’s pitches with the fat of their bats.
“I was in pretty good pitcher’s counts with most batters, and I just wasn’t able to make pitches whenever I needed to,” Wacha said. “I left balls up in the zone, and they were able to get hits off them.”
It started with a ground-rule double and a single in the second. Then there were a single, a double, and a three-run homer in the fourth. Three singles and a double followed in the fifth.
“He just didn’t locate his fastball well,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “That really hurt him. And actually, his change-up had a little sail to it as well.”
Wacha specifically regretted the 2-0 fastball that A.J. Pollock sent out of Busch Stadium. First base was vacant at the time, and Arizona pitcher Tyler Skaggs was slotted next in the lineup.
“That was a huge mistake,” Wacha said. “Especially with Skaggs on deck, and an open base at first. That was just dumb on my part.”
After Wacha gave up his 10th hit, Matheny threw in the towel. He had allowed six earned runs over 4 2/3 innings – half of what he allowed during 52 2/3 innings with Triple-A Memphis. The Cardinals trailed 6-3.
Just like it had on the night of his first start, the game went long after Wacha exited. This time, though, the Cardinals rallied to erase his trouble.
But the comeback fell short after 14 innings, and the Cardinals lost 7-6. Relief pitcher Victor Marte was tabbed with the loss. Wacha, who walked away with his second no-decision, knew better.
“Whenever we put up six runs, we expect to win,” he said. “I didn’t do my part tonight.”
He didn’t. But this had to happen at some point. The kid wasn’t going to cruise forever. Now, the most important thing is what happens next.
“I’m already ready to pitch again,” he said.
Let’s see how he responds.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org