Wacha not dwelling on past while on mound

Righty strong in first appearance since allowing walk-off homer to end NLCS

Wacha not dwelling on past while on mound

JUPITER, Fla. -- If Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha could have it his way, he'd prefer to focus simply on the pitching and not so much on the past. He's gone about the first few weeks of camp blending in fairly well, mostly avoiding the spotlight that trailed him last spring when he was coming off an historic postseason showing.

But not all is behind him, as Wacha was reminded of Monday when, after throwing two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut, he fielded a series of questions about his health and the ending to his 2014 season. The latter was notable since Monday marked Wacha's first game appearance since surrendering a series-ending walk-off homer to the Giants' Travis Ishikawa in last fall's National League Championship Series.

And yet …

"I'm not thinking about last season at all whenever I'm out there on the mound," Wacha said. "It's all forward from here, one outing at a time, I guess."

His first start made a strong statement, as Wacha struck out four of the six batters he faced while finishing two innings on 27 pitches. He notched three of those strikeouts by getting a Red Sox hitter to swing through a changeup, a pitch that looks again like a weapon for the right-hander.

Wacha found himself searching for the pitch last September when he returned from a stress reaction shoulder injury. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny remarked that Wacha's changeup and fastball on Monday showed the same downward action that made Wacha so tough to hit when he was at his best in 2013.

"Just from the eye, watching it from the side, yeah, it looks like he is feeling strong and on top of the ball," Matheny said. "The ball looks like it's jumping. I think that's a key for him because there are not many guys in the league who have that look. And that's what makes his changeup so good."

While the stress reaction injury could be a recurring one, neither Wacha, nor the Cardinals, are overly concerned about his health at the moment. Though his pitches lacked crispness late last season, Wacha did return to pitch and had no shoulder issues after coming back.

He went through a normal offseason throwing program and then impressed during his side sessions early in camp.

"We watched him throw a couple bullpens, everybody said it looked really good and I think a lot of the concern went away as far as health goes, which is a great testament to how hard he worked," Matheny said. "And then after that, it's more of him just going out and competing. I think he's got a very simple approach right now."

It's an approach that involves focusing on what's ahead.

"I'm coming into this Spring Training wanting each outing to get a little bit better," Wacha said. "I've still got some stuff to work on in the bullpen with the breaking ball and fastball command, but I was happy with the outing."

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