ST. LOUIS — Michael Wacha bounded out of the dugout for batting practice with a little more bounce in his step than usual Tuesday afternoon. And why not?
He had just found out that he will be making his first big-league start in nearly three months Thursday night at Milwaukee, and in a pennant race no less.
"Very excited to be back up here with the team," he said after batting practice. "Definitely looking forward to Thursday."
Because of a right shoulder stress reaction, Wacha has not pitched since working six innings in a 5-1 victory over the Mets on June 17. The outing left him with a 5-5 record and 2.79 ERA. Since then, the 23-year-old right-hander has spent his time trying to build the strength in the area around the scapula as well as strength in his lower body to hopefully take stress off his arm.
The announcement came as a surprise because Wacha has made only one rehab start, pitching two scoreless innings Sunday night at Tulsa for Double-A Springfield. When the club announced Monday that Justin Masterson was moving to the bullpen, lefties Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons were thought to be in line for the Thursday start. Now they will be available to follow Wacha, who will be limited to about 60 pitches. General manager John Mozeliak said he hopes Wacha can last four innings.
Wacha said the command on his off-speed pitches wasn’t where he wanted it to be at Tulsa but otherwise, he felt big-league ready.
"I was happy with the way I felt out there," he said. "I feel like I could have gone more (than two innings). The command is still on the way with off-speed pitches, but I felt like the velocity was there. Everything will come, for sure."
The club still isn’t sure what caused Wacha’s injury and he admits the shoulder reaction is something that he could deal with long term. But for now, he says he is "as strong as I’ve ever been" and, as Mozeliak pointed out, "He’s fresh."
He’s not only well rested but happy he doesn’t have any more scheduled trips to the MRI machine before he can return to work.
"It will be nice not to have that checkup every two weeks," he said. "I felt like I could be back a month ago … no, I wanted to be back a month ago. I’m happy with where I am now, and ready to get it started again."