Reds see shades of Waino and Carp in Wacha’s game — which isn’t good for their future
ST. LOUIS — Jay Bruce got to know Michael Wacha a little bit during the offseason as both worked out at the same facility in the suburbs of Houston.
The National League Central rivals weren’t working out together, Bruce explained, but their workout groups at Texas Sports Medicine in Tomball, Texas — where Jaime Garcia and Shelby Miller have worked out in the past, the Reds’ outfielder said — would overlap.
"He’s just a nice, quiet guy who works hard from Texas," Bruce said.
Well, Wacha hasn’t been too nice to Bruce and the Reds early in his career.
The 22-year-old has faced Cincinnati four times in the past nine months, including twice already this season, and has been extremely stingy with the Reds. He wasn’t at his best Monday, but still earned his first win of 2014 after allowing one run on seven hits in six innings as the Cardinals beat the Reds 5-3 in the home opener at Busch Stadium.
"Pitching wins championships," Bruce said. "(Chris) Carpenter, (Adam) Wainwright, the guys over there that are really cogs, guys that are holding the staff together. And that’s nothing against the other guys, but you lose a guy like Carpenter and you replace him with a guy like Wacha. Obviously, it’s very, very, very early, but he’s stepped in and done a really nice job for him."
The outfielder was asked if the young righty from Texas reminds him of those two other right-handers — you know, the former Cy Young Award winner and the two-time Cy Young runner-up.
"It’s like a clone, man," Bruce said. "He’s a little different when it comes to stuff, but you can just tell. These guys go about their business the right way. He reminds me a lot of Wainwright, in my opinion. Both of them, obviously. He kind of looks like (Wainwright)."
Wacha (1-0) certainly already looks like an ace.
He probably looks like Cy Young to Cincinnati’s lineup.
In four career games against the Reds, a division rival he will see often in his career, the righty has allowed just one run on 16 hits with 20 strikeouts and five walks over 22 2/3 innings.
Wacha, who struck out three and walked one Monday, had tossed 21 consecutive scoreless innings against the Reds before they got to him for a run in the fifth.
His earned-run average against Cincinnati is now 0.40.
Wacha has been rough on some of the Reds’ biggest bats.
Bruce is now 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts in his career against Wacha. St. Louis favorite Brandon Phillips is now 0 for 10. Todd Frazier is 0 for 8 with three strikeouts.
"For me, personally, he’s given me some pitches to hit and I just haven’t hit them," Bruce said. "Guys like that, a couple other guys over there that are similar, if you get good pitches to hit, when you don’t hit them you’re probably S.O.L., to be honest with you. He’s got the downward angle. He pitches. He commands both sides of the plate."
All over the Reds’ clubhouse Monday evening the hitters were asked what makes the Cardinals’ young righty, a guy who mostly features two pitches (fastball and change-up), so difficult to hit.
Bruce said Wacha has plus stuff, in scouting parlance, with two plus pitches, including a fastball that he’s seen register 98 mph.
"When you have that stuff and you have command of those two pitches and keep them out of the heart of the plate, you’re going to have success. Especially being a tall guy," he said. "It gets on you."
Ryan Ludwick, who had two of the Reds’ seven hits, said Wacha is in the same mold as Carpenter and Wainwright, two of Ludwick’s former teammates.
"You saw Carpenter take Wainwright under his wing, a guy who attacks the zone, who’s an extreme competitor," he said. "I think that’s the same way (Wacha) is. He’s going to attack the zone. He’s going to challenge you. He believes in what he has. Confidence means a lot in this game. That’s kind of the way they teach him over there."
Ludwick said everyone saw last year how devastating Wacha’s change-up is and now the righty has added a "baby cutter."
"He’s young, he’s a competitor and he’s tough to beat," Ludwick said.
The Reds still haven’t hung an L on Wacha’s register, even though they earned wins in the three starts the youngster made against them before Monday’s home opener. After two series against St. Louis already, Cincy won’t see the Cardinals again until late May.
The rest of the National League, however, will get to see plenty of Wacha in 2014, and that’s a difficult proposition for future Cards opponents.