Cardinals NLDS notebook: Wacha fits as young, talented pitcher

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The Cardinals have seven pitchers on their 25-man roster who have yet to turn 26, and four of them are 23 or younger. The future is bright for the Cardinals pitching staff.

That list includes 22-year-old Michael Wacha, who will start Game 4 of the NLDS today. Wacha was the Cardinals' first-round pick in the 2012 draft.

"[That] says a lot about his talent, but I also believe it says even more about his makeup," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Wacha starting Game 4. "He is mature beyond his years and beyond his experience.

"We learned [about his maturity] in spring training. We were excited to watch just not his stuff, but how he handled a big league clubhouse, how he handled the distractions that do come with this job, and we've been very impressed."

Wacha didn't get called up until May 30th and appeared in only 15 games, but he posted a 4-1 record and a 2.78 ERA with a 3.42 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

On Sept. 24, his last start of the season, he took a no-hitter into the ninth against the Nationals before a two-out single spoiled it. Wacha still went 82/3 innings with nine strikeouts, two walks, no runs and one hit in the win.

Plenty of company

The Cardinals have other young pitchers in the majors beyond Wacha who are key contributors.

Matheny said the Cardinals are not unique because it seems to be a trend in baseball -- teams bringing up young, "power" pitchers quickly and letting them learn on the job.

"I don't know how to explain it -- guys are constantly training, looking for ways to get bigger, stronger and faster," Matheny said. "And we've been fortunate that we've been able to be one of those clubs that has a group of young guys with strong arms."

Strong organization

Wacha was asked what about the Cardinals organization, besides good talent evaluation and drafting, has enabled them to have so many homegrown, successful players quickly come through the system.

"It starts in the minor leagues, every single minor leaguer, they're kind of preached on that whenever you get up to St. Louis, you're expected to win," Wacha said.

Atmosphere is a good thing

Matheny said the atmosphere at PNC Park should not be a distraction for his club, and that crowd energy is something that fuels both teams.

"I think what sometimes gets overlooked is players would typically prefer to have a live atmosphere rather than just silence," Matheny said. "And yeah, it is going to be very pro-[Pirates] while we're here but that's still a fun environment to play in, so I encourage our guys to embrace it and enjoy it."

Shadow games

Game 3 and today's Game 4 are late afternoon starts, which means the setting sun could cause tough shadow lines, especially in left and center.

"We've had a couple of stadiums, ours being one of them, that presents some challenges as far as shadows and sun," Matheny said. "The way we look at it we try to limit excuses. If we never played here before [the spacious left field] could possibly be a challenge but we have played a significant amount of games here.

"I think it is a beautiful park, it is one of the nicest venues in baseball."

pirates

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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