MONTREAL • As much as anything he did Monday night against Toronto in his final fine-tune before the regular season, Michael Wacha revealed how he felt about the onrushing season with something he said later that night at Olympic Stadium.
It was just four words.
“A four-pitch mix,” he said.
The righthander who blitzed the majors in 2013 with a one-two, fastball-changeup combination that knocked out some of the league’s best teams has spent this spring expanding the number of pitches he has confidence in, not just that he’ll use. In four scoreless innings Monday, Wacha struck out six.
Three of his strikeouts ended innings, and each of them came with a runner on second base. He closed out his final start of spring training with a cut fastball that got Kevin Pillar fishing for it on the outside edge. The cutter would qualify as Wacha’s fourth pitch.
“Not too much,” Wacha said when asked how often he’s gone into a season with a feel for four pitches. “Obviously my curveball hasn’t been as good as I wanted it to be in the past. It’s a pitch for me now. The cutter keeps coming along, along with the fastball. I’m able to throw them at any count.”
With Adam Wainwright’s sudden absence from the opening week, Wacha inherits Saturday’s start against the Mets and the home opener the next week at Busch Stadium. The question following Wacha into spring was whether he could find a way to get through a lineup for the third time. Once hitters read the changeup or hunt the fastball, what else does he have? This spring he’s found an elevated fastball to play off an improved curve, and the cutter that has a place. His manager said Wacha goes into the season with more confidence in more pitches than ever before, “without question.”
“Elevating as good as I’ve ever seen him do it,” Mike Matheny said.
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Three of the four baserunners Wacha allowed came with two outs. The first two were doubles that gave Toronto chances to score in the first and second inning. Wacha got a strikeout on the fastball and the changeup to end those innings. The cutter came later — the second time Pillar saw him. That showed Wacha has more to work with going forward.
REYES WON’T GO ON 60-DAY DL
At some point before Thursday’s opener at Citi Field, the Cardinals will have to create a spot on the 40-man roster for backup catcher Francisco Pena. That move won’t be with Alex Reyes. One way to clear a spot on the roster is to assign a player to the 60-day disabled list, but since that player wouldn’t be eligible until May 28, the Cardinals don’t want to do that with Reyes, the rookie who is recovering from elbow surgery.
They’ll designate another player for assignment to buy time, and a spot.
Reyes, who had Tommy John surgery almost 13 months ago, will remain in Jupiter, Fla., and continue facing hitters in controlled settings. He’ll have access to extended spring training games before advancing to a rehab assignment that could start with Class A Palm Beach. The club believes he could start his official rehab assignment in the middle of April and be on target to join the major-league team by the start of May, or soon after. A move to the 60-day DL would put him in dry dock for almost four weeks longer than planned.
VIVE LA MONTREAL
Memories of candy bars and speed came back to several of the Cardinals’ coaches who had played against the Expos in their careers. Although he mostly saw the empty cavernous ballpark that contributed to the Expos’ departure after the 2004 season, Matheny recalled the games against Henry Rodriguez and the O. Henry candy bars that would fly out on the field after the outfielder hit a home run. Coach Willie McGee looked out over the field Monday and said, “You just really had to enjoy the competition here.”
McGee faced the Expos during their burner days, when the team was built a lot like the Cardinals to take advantage of the turf field and open spaces of Olympic Stadium.
In 92 games at the Montreal ballpark, McGee hit .298 with a .398 slugging percentage, 23 steals and 104 hits. He was a .288 hitter in his career against the Expos.
These exhibition games have become almost annual for the Jays and Major League Baseball, and an effort is underway to bring a team back to Montreal during baseball’s next expansion. Commissioner Rob Manfred Jr. has said he wants to expand once stadium issues in Tampa and Oakland are resolved. Former Montreal player Warren Cromartie is championing an effort to assure there’s an Expos in expansion.
“It just seems like baseball belongs here,” McGee said.
Adam Wainwright (hamstring) and Luke Gregerson (hamstring) will relocate their rehab from Jupiter to St. Louis in the coming days. Neither veteran is expected to join the team on the opening road trip, but they will be present at the home opener, a week from Thursday. … To augment the roster for the two exhibition games in Montreal, the Cardinals recalled a handful of players who are not on the 40-man roster, including infielder Max Schrock, who missed the opening of big-league camp with an oblique strain. In addition to Schrock, who singled and tripled in his debut, the traveling party included pitchers Kevin Herget, Connor Jones, and Jacob Woodford. … The Cardinals announced Luke Weaver as the starter for Tuesday’s game in Montreal. Both Weaver and Miles Mikolas will pitch, aiming for three or more innings apiece. … Back in Jupiter, Luke Voit went three for three with two home runs and five RBIs for Class AAA Memphis. Carson Kelly also had three hits in the Redbirds’ 15-7 victory against the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate.