Pitcher Michael Wacha, injured Wednesday in Arizona, surely is out of the Cardinals’ playoff plans for next week because of a mild shoulder strain that will necessitate his not picking up a ball for five to seven days.
“It’s unlikely he’s going to be ready to go in time for that,” general manager Michael Girsch said Friday.
Optimistic manager Mike Shildt, however, said, “I expect Michael to be able to pitch for us sometime this year.”
That would seem to mean in a potential league championship series.
Girsch said Wacha’s shoulder problem is not related to the stress reaction to his right scapula he has had in years past.
“It’s a different area of the shoulder,” Girsch said.
There had been nothing on the medical report, Girsch said, that Wacha was having any problems before he came out of Wednesday's game in the second inning and then had an MRI exam on Thursday.
“I don’t know if it was one pitch or building up during that start,” Girsch said. “But until Wednesday, we had no indication of anything.”
Shildt said, “The great thing is that structurally he’s more or less fine. All things considered, it’s really favorable news.”
More certain to be playing for the Cardinals next week, even possibly this weekend against the Chicago Cubs, is second baseman Kolten Wong. He has been out for eight days because of a hamstring strain he suffered in Chicago a week ago Thursday. Wong went through an extensive workout Friday and said afterward he still felt some pain — “it’s not like I did something small to it” — but that he is hopeful of playing this weekend, especially in some capacity on Sunday.
“It’s pretty close, I’d say,” Wong offered. “It’s day-to-day right now. I’m not quite ready for today.”
Wong has been working with the training staff all week to be ready for this series “if need be.”
“But you don’t want to go into the playoffs sitting out six to 10 days, where it looks like I might be. So any time I can get in there (this weekend) would be huge. Do I want to push it now and take a chance of being out? Or do I want to take the smart route and make sure I’m ready for the playoffs?”
Wong said the only aspect of his game, an important one for him, that he hasn’t worked on yet was pushing himself to go from first base to third.
“Understanding my limitations,” he said.
Girsch said, “He’s pretty close to being able to participate at some level. The longer we can push that back, the more comfortable we are pushing him all the way into the starting lineup.”
Wong was in postseason situations in 2013-2015.
He came back home after the Cardinals’ sweep in Chicago last weekend to begin extended treatment of his leg. He took the chance of missing a possible clinching celebration in Phoenix, which didn’t happen.
“I took that risk because I wanted to get ready for October,” said Wong, who is hitting .285, second to Tommy Edman on the club. “If they would have celebrated in Arizona, it would have been something I would have been fine with. I definitely bought a bottle of champagne, just in case. I was up to 3:30 (in the morning) watching that 19-inning game.”
Shildt moved up Adam Wainwright, who has won his past five games, to take Saturday’s start. Sunday remains open, for a possible start by Jack Flaherty or perhaps Miles Mikolas, depending on the standings heading into the final day of the regular season.
“It’s really more about Adam” because of “the way he’s been pitching, the way he’s been pitching in games of these situations,” Shildt said. “It’s not any slight against Miles (in) the least.”
Shildt didn’t rule out the possibility of somebody other than Flaherty or Mikolas pitching Sunday if the game does not have meaning in the standings.
‘GLORIFIED SPRING TRAINING’
Manager Joe Maddon, likely handling his last weekend of games for the Cubs, didn’t deny that Friday’s game had a different feel after his team has been in the postseason four seasons in succession, including winning the 2016 World Series. Injured stars Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant all weren’t in the lineup and Jason Heyward and Nicholas Castellano didn’t start, either.
“Honestly, the game doesn’t mean anything tonight. It’s a glorified spring training game,” Maddon said before the contest. “Although, we are here to beat them — for the integrity of the pennant race.
“Other than that, it’s a different mindset, brother. It just is, when you’re not involved. And that’s why, man, you want to have meaningful games in September, because when you don’t, it really becomes difficult for anybody. Fan bases. Players. Front offices. Coaches. Whatever. Managers. Of course we are playing to win tonight. But it is a different feeling. You can’t deny that.”
Discussing his injured stars, he said, “These guys are hurt. I’m not going to play hurt people. I’m not going to pitch guys that are over limits based on what’s best for the Cubs. Ever.
“So if you want to cry and complain, go ahead and do that.”
Wainwright, talking about how proud he is of the many young players who have contributed to the Cardinals’ success, said, “The young guys are playing with more maturity than their age shows.”
Then, as the 38-year-old righthander walked away, he joked, “I play with less.”