MILWAUKEE -- Making his first start for the Cardinals since June 17, right-hander Michael Wacha pitched the first three innings of the club's series opener against the Brewers on Thursday night before handing a two-run lead over to left-hander Marco Gonzales, the first of six relievers who would protect an eventual 3-2 win.
The Cardinals chose to have Wacha start in a key division matchup rather than send him to Triple-A for another rehab appearance. The club felt comfortable extending him to a pitch count of 50, of which the last induced an inning-ending double play in a nine-pitch third.
"I thought he was good," manager Mike Matheny said. "His changeup is so valuable to him. I thought he was really strong with it early. I thought his last inning was his best with it. It had a lot more depth. But his curveball was good. His curveball has improved so much this season, and it's a pitch that he goes to in deep counts and behind in counts. I thought velocity looked good. The downhill plan, it's awfully fun to watch."
Wacha, who missed 11 weeks with a stress reaction in his right shoulder, threw 34 of his pitches for strikes and showed an unusually high reliance on his curveball, throwing 18.
"I think it helped keep them off balance a little bit with the fastball and changeup," Wacha said of leaning on that third pitch. "It was a good equalizer. I knew it was coming along and was going to get better each time out. It's still definitely a work in progress. I was pretty happy with where it was today."
He allowed one run in the first inning on consecutive one-out hits by Gerardo Parra and Jonathan Lucroy, but limited Milwaukee to only two other baserunners (a single and a walk). He struck out three, all swinging.
The Cardinals, who led, 3-1, after three innings, plan to have Wacha remain in the rotation moving forward and will methodically extend him by 15-20 pitches each time out.
"I feel bad coming out after the third inning and leaving it all for the bullpen, but I was really happy with getting back out on the field and hopefully get some more innings the next time out," Wacha said. "[Command] is still definitely a work in progress, but I was pretty happy with where it was today."