ST. LOUIS -- While one misplaced cutter may have soured Michael Wacha's outing, the look he provided over the other 99 pitches he delivered in the Cardinals' 1-0 loss to the Phillies offered a lot to like as the Cardinals envision his continued ascension in this rotation.
Wacha was better than he has been all season, certainly, and arguably as dominant as the Cardinals have seen him since his standout postseason of 2013. It had been even longer than that, too, since he last finished eight innings, which Wacha did while limiting the Phillies to five hits.
The only one that stung was a towering Ryan Howard blast, which proved to be enough as the Cardinals garnered no run support for Wacha for the second straight game.
"Some days," Wacha said, "you have to go out there and match zeros."
Though his last two starts have ended up in the loss column, they've offered every indication that Wacha has regained the dynamic fastball-changeup mix that has been the foundation for his early career success. He left several Phillies batters baffled as they tried to pick up the two pitches from Wacha's higher-than-usual arm slot. That helped generate eight strikeouts.
The cutter, a pitch Wacha has been developing to enhance the effectiveness of his two primary pitches, notched three swinging strikeouts ahead of the one that stayed over the plate to Howard.
One poor one won't spoil his outlook on that pitch, either, as Wacha has found the cutter to be a worthy addition to his repertoire. It's accounted for 15 percent of his pitches thrown this year, induced plenty of weak contact and has kept hitters from sitting on his fastball.
"I know if I execute that pitch and get it to where I want, it might be a groundout or a take," Wacha said of the mistake to Howard. "[I'll] use this start as another building opportunity to keep moving forward."
Combined with his last start, Wacha has struck out 17 over his last 15 innings.
"It was even better today," manager Mike Matheny said of Wacha's repertoire. "Everything was timed up. Those are the swing and misses we're used to seeing from Michael when he looks right. I thought he did exactly what he wanted to do. One run seldom beats you. He did everything he could."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.