Abrupt end doesn't diminish Wacha's success

Cards starter healthy all season after spring full of questions

Abrupt end doesn't diminish Wacha's success

ST. LOUIS -- There will likely be a time this winter, once the lights go out for good at Busch Stadium, when Michael Wacha will be able to look beyond how his season abruptly ended and savor the series of steps that got him there.

Barring the improbable -- four straight wins by the Cardinals and no more for the Rockies -- Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Cubs marked the final time that Wacha will take the mound this year. He was so dominant through six innings, throwing as hard as he has all season and making the Cubs' hitters look silly in registering 18 outs on 60 pitches.

In the span of 20 seventh-inning pitches, however, the outing unraveled. Two singles, a cutter crushed for a three-run homer, two more doubles and a walk produced five Chicago runs and unceremoniously chased Wacha. It also set the stage for the Cubs' division-clinching celebration.

"It happened in a hurry, and it was unfortunate because he had special stuff today," manager Mike Matheny said. "Those first six [innings] were probably as good as we've seen from anybody this year."

And that's what Matheny hopes Wacha can hang onto.

Six months ago, Wacha wrapped up a reassuring Spring Training performance still knowing that plenty of questions lingered. Could his shoulder hold up? Would his reworked offseason workout regimen make a difference? And could he keep a rotation spot from season start to season end?

Though there were temporary dips in effectiveness along the way, Wacha answered each in the affirmative.

"I'm very happy with the way I feel, for sure," Wacha said after Wednesday's loss. "It's been a lot of work, not only on my end, but [by] the trainers and the weight coach and everyone involved. They've put a lot of effort into me, and I couldn't thank them enough. I'm still feeling good late here in the season."

That was evident early on Wednesday, when Wacha's fastball velocity reached as high as 99.1 mph. It was the second-hardest pitch he had thrown all season.

"It's just him showing everyone that he's strong," Matheny said. "Unfortunately, the seventh might make a different argument, but not for me. He has answered the bell. He has continued to do the work that he needs to do to stay strong and take the ball, and he did a great job all the way through."

Wacha matched his career high with 30 starts and established a career high with 158 strikeouts, the final eight of which came on Wednesday. His ratio of 0.92 home runs allowed over nine innings led the Cardinals' staff.

And while there were continued troubles navigating through a lineup the second or third time through, there was also progress with the development of his two secondary pitches -- his cutter and curveball.

"I just tried to work about my business and how I felt internally and go out there and try to make every start I can and compete my tail off," Wacha said. "I feel fine. I feel good. Hopefully, this isn't my last start."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.