The Cardinals now have a 12-man bullpen with Michael Wacha back on the active roster.
In advance of their Wednesday series finale with the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium, the St. Louis Cardinals activated righthanded pitcher Michael Wacha from the 15-day disabled list.
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Wacha has not pitched since August 8 as he’s dealt with right shoulder inflammation, which is believed to be connected to a chronic condition that he’s dealt with for the past several years. That condition caused him to have a stress reaction in his shoulder back in June of 2014, and he didn’t pitch again until September of that year. This time, the Cardinals have been cautious in handling his recovery, and he’ll pitch out of the bullpen for the time being as he gets back to full health.
The 25-year-old Wacha has a 4.45 ERA, a 1.42 WHIP, and a .276 opponent batting average in 23 starts this season. The months of May (6.75 ERA, 1.66 WHIP in six starts) and August (5.40 ERA, 1.70 WHIP in two starts) have been particularly rough on him. After allowing six hits and four walks in his final start on August 8, he decided to be proactive in doing something about his injury, and he’s been on the DL ever since.
Wacha will pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of this season to limit his workload (and because there’s no Cardinals minor-league team that’s still active for Wacha to rehab with), but it could also be an opportunity to see if he fits in that type of role long-term. With Lance Lynn and Marco Gonzales returning, along with Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes making good cases for long-term starting roles, there might not be a clear spot in the rotation for Wacha if he continues to put up numbers like he has for the last season-and-a-half.
With above-average velocity (his fastball moves at an average of 93.25 MPH, which could be improved upon in the bullpen) and solid career numbers over the first inning (3.78 ERA, .243 BAA, .314 OBP, 74 strikeouts), Wacha at least deserves a shot at proving that he can thrive in a relief role. Even if he doesn’t start next season as a reliever, it’d always be an option that the Cards would have in their back pocket if one of their many young starters forced themselves into the big-league rotation, or if Wacha’s condition eventually prevented him from being able to throw enough innings to start.