Boston Red Sox: Michael Wacha

Wacha baffling hitters with his changeup

October, 24, 2013
In eight starts since re-joining the rotation at the beginning of September, Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha is 5-1 with a 1.20 ERA. He’s been even better in the postseason, going 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA between the NLDS and NLCS.

One of the primary reasons for his ascension has been the effectiveness of his changeup, long considered his best offspeed pitch. Through Sept. 19, opponents were hitting .213 against it. Ever since, they’ve hit a paltry .094. He is also throwing the pitch more often. He’s thrown it in 24.8 percent of his pitches over his past four starts.

Cards' Wacha 'real excited' for Game 2 start

October, 23, 2013
BOSTON -- The list of accomplishments for St. Louis Cardinals starter Michael Wacha continues to grow each time he takes the mound.

A near no-hitter in his last start of the regular season against the Washington Nationals. Three wins in his first three postseason starts, two coming against NL Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw. The first NLCS MVP won by a rookie since Livan Hernandez in 1997. Even a milkshake named after him at a restaurant in St. Louis, appropriately termed "The Wacha Wacha."

So where would his World Series Game 2 start rank among these achievements?

"No. 1, the highest, biggest, most important game that I've ever pitched in," Wacha said. "I'll try to approach it just like any other start, but [I'm] just real excited about it."

Still just 22 years old and 12 starts into his major league career, Wacha will take the mound against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night at Fenway Park. Through his three postseason starts, the right-hander has seemed unfazed, allowing only one run and eight hits in 21 innings pitched and taking over the second spot in the rotation behind veteran ace Adam Wainwright.

"I'm trying not to get too caught up in the moment," Wacha said. "I'm sure after the season I'll be able to look back and think, 'Hey, I pitched in the World Series,' and that kind of stuff."

"Pretty excited to be pitching here in Fenway as well," he added.

Even if the moment gets to him, Wacha could be forgiven. Selected in the first round of the 2012 MLB draft, Wacha had just one year in the minor leagues before getting the call to join St. Louis in May to make his debut against the Kansas City Royals. Despite a rotation that featured several rookies finding success this season, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has been particularly impressed with how quickly Wacha has been able to perform at a high level.

"I think everybody is surprised when a young player doesn't go the typical route," Matheny said. "Once we had him here, we put him in big positions and he made pitches. It was pretty obvious [he was ready] at that point."

Thursday will mark the biggest position Wacha has been put in in his career, facing an unfamiliar team at an unfamiliar venue in front of what's guaranteed to be a sellout crowd of Boston fans waiting for the chance to get under the young pitcher's skin. However, as his list dictates, there's nothing Wacha wants more than the chance to pitch his team to a Game 2 victory.

"I want the ball in big situations," he said, "and there's none bigger than the World Series."

Wacha, Middlebrooks Texas HS rivals

October, 22, 2013
BOSTON -- Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks will be the first one to tell you that he’s not one to lay down a bunt.

In 660 major league plate appearances, the 25-year-old has laid down one sacrifice bunt, a grounder to the pitcher that resulted in moving the game-winning run to third against the Minnesota Twins in the 10th inning of a May 17 game this year.

However, with the World Series about to begin Wednesday night, there’s a more controversial bunt being discussed at Fenway Park, one that took place years ago in the city of Texarkana, Texas.

Or did it take place?

“I don’t remember bunting. He might just be messing with you guys,” Middlebrooks said.

The he in this scenario is St. Louis Cardinals Game 2 starter Michael Wacha, NLCS MVP and, perhaps more importantly, high school rival of fellow Texan Will Middlebrooks.

“I think he tried bunting off me,” Wacha said of Middlebrooks. “I don’t know why ... probably because he knew he couldn’t get a hit off me.”

Of the three high school located on the Texas side of Texarkana, Middlebrooks attended Liberty-Eylau High School and was two grades above the 22-year-old Wacha, who attended Pleasant Grove High School (the third school, Texas High, was attended by New England Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, also 25). Both were baseball standouts, Middlebrooks as a shortstop and Wacha as a pitcher.

“I knew he was good,” Middlebrooks said of Wacha. “He has always been a good pitcher, he was always the guy who utilized all three pitches. It seemed like he never threw balls in the middle of the plate.”

“He was always the best player out there, an unbelievable player,” Wacha said of Middlebrooks. “He was one of those guys everyone really looked up to.”

Now, the two are once again facing off against each other in the World Series, bringing a buzz to the Texas city with a population of around 37,000.

“They’re pretty happy that at least a ring will be coming back there,” Wacha said.

Whether Middlebrooks or Wacha will be the one to bring the ring back will be decided shortly as the winner of the World Series will be decided in the coming days. For now though, the debate in Boston rages over whether or not Middlebrooks did indeed lay a bunt down against Wacha while the two played together growing up.

“I really don’t remember that but I’ll ask him [Tuesday night],” Middlebrooks said. “I don’t know if it’s because I couldn’t hit him. I’m not ever going to say that.”