Wacha's early 'pen session draws interest from Cards

Righty throws with no concerns as offseason rehab program turns to spring

Wacha's early 'pen session draws interest from Cards

JUPITER, Fla. -- Michael Wacha returned to the mound a few weeks ago, which made Tuesday's bullpen session not so much momentous, but rather just the latest step in a spring that will be full of them for the right-hander. It was notable enough an occasion, though, to draw a crowd.

Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak were among those who paused their morning activities to gather and watch Wacha showcase his health. While others may continue to question the durability of Wacha's shoulder, there have emerged no such concerns from the Cardinals since Wacha resumed throwing this offseason.

"I don't have any of that feeling in the shoulder area," Wacha said. "I'm real happy with everything, the way everything is coming out, the way the arm feels throughout the whole 'pen. Hopefully I'll just keep building off of each bullpen, getting a little more command of each pitch each time out."

Wacha will throw next on Friday, the first official workout date for the team's pitchers and catchers. By then he'll have been in a throwing program for close to two months. There have been no setbacks, nor any reoccurrence of the shoulder discomfort that limited Wacha to 19 starts in 2014.

While the Cardinals have spent several months learning more about the injury -- it is officially termed a shoulder stress reaction -- that shut Wacha down in June, there has been no call for the right-hander to adjust his mechanics to prevent future issues. Instead, the only tweaks made to Wacha's schedule have come in his off-the-field work, where he's added some new exercises designed to build strength around his right shoulder.

"It's a pretty rare injury, and a lot of people don't know how it happened or how to fix it rehab wise," Wacha said. "I'm continuing to get stronger, and hopefully I'm building the muscles around the injury to where it doesn't happen again."

Outlook: Wacha, SP, STL

The Cardinals are counting on as much, projecting that Wacha will return to the rotation, though still requiring that he earn his spot back this spring. In that regard, his standing is not all that different than it was a year ago. That is not, however, the case with the circumstances surrounding his return to the field.

Last spring, Wacha arrived at camp as baseball's rising star, the wunderkind who had grabbed national attention during a standout 2013 postseason. It was, for Wacha, the highest perch imaginable after a rookie campaign. The expectations for 2014 became as lofty, too.

But after a strong start in 2014, Wacha's season stalled upon his summer stress reaction diagnosis. He made a run at a late-season return but lacked the arm strength to be a viable starting option for the Cardinals in the postseason. His only October appearance was an unexpected one that came in relief and ended with him offering a misplaced fastball to Travis Ishikawa, who ended the National League Championship Series with the swing he put on it.

Four months later, Wacha is eager to move beyond it all.

"I went into 2014 Spring Training not thinking about the 2013 playoffs, and I'm going to do the same thing coming in here -- not think at all about how the season ended," Wacha said. "It's a new season, a new opportunity for myself and this team to do something special."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.