Wacha among crowded field shooting for spot in Cards’ rotation

Kids enjoy the antics of Fredbird, the St. Louis Cardinals mascot, during Friday's Cardinals Caravan stop at Missouri Farm Bureau.

Kids enjoy the antics of Fredbird, the St. Louis Cardinals mascot, during Friday's Cardinals Caravan stop at Missouri Farm Bureau. Photo by The Associated Press.

Michael Wacha emerged as a postseason hero for the St. Louis Cardinals last October. Now the 22-year-old right-hander might be fighting for a spot in a stacked starting rotation.

With eight quality candidates for five spots in the rotation, Wacha isn’t taking anything for granted. Even after last season’s heroics.

“All the arms we have coming into spring training are phenomenal. I feel like all of them deserve a spot there. You have to go into spring training fighting for a job. Nothing is given to you,” Wacha said Friday night when the Cardinals Caravan made a stop at the Missouri Farm Bureau in Jefferson City. “That’s my mindset and I’m sure that’s everyone else’s mindset going in there. It’s going to be a fun competition, we’re all teammates, but I think we all want that spot.”

Other Cardinals appearing with Wacha included Tyler Lyons, Jermaine Curtis and Stephen Piscotty. Broadcaster John Rooney and former Cardinals Alan Benes and John Costello also came along.

Wacha boasted a 4-1 record in nine starts during the 2013 regular season while posting a dazzling 2.78 ERA. The Texas A&M product then topped that in the playoffs, as Wacha went 4-1 in five starts with a 2.64 ERA. He tossed a gem in an elimination game — Game 4 — against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League division series before besting Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw twice in the NL championship series. After winning Game 2 of the World Series against Boston, Wacha’s hot streak finally came to an end in the series-clinching Game 6.

“It was an unbelievable season,” Wacha said. “Just the run that we put together in the playoffs and all throughout the season.

“… It definitely hadn’t sunk in while it was going on, that’s for sure. But after the season, I was able to just relax and calm down and think about this past season. It finally has sunk in a little bit.”

The eight projected candidates for the 2014 starting rotation — Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez, Joe Kelly, Lyons and Wacha — will be competing against each other for the final five slots.

“Either way, whether you have a spot or don’t have a spot or you’re fighting for a spot, you’re going to go and do what you need to do to get ready and pitch to the best of your ability,” said Lyons, a 25-year-old right-hander who went 2-4 with a 4.75 ERA in eight starts for the major-league club last season. “Whatever happens after that, it happens. You can’t control that so it doesn’t really change a whole lot. It’s good for motivation to keep working.”

While Wacha projects to be in the starting five — along with Wainwright, Miller, Garcia and a take-your-pick No. 5 spot — he’s doing everything he can to ensure that happens.

“I had my ups and downs, that’s for sure, while I was up in the big leagues,” Wacha said of last season. “Just trying to work on those failures that I and make those my strengths going into spring training.

“… I took some time off after the season, let my body rest. I’m back at it throwing and working out again. Nothing specifically, just keep on getting stronger. That’s the main goal, is to just keep getting stronger. That’s what I’ve been doing.”

The Cardinals showcased one of baseball’s best rotations a season ago. St. Louis had the second-best starters’ ERA in majors last season at 3.42, just behind the Dodgers’ 3.13 ERA. The Cardinals’ starters topped all of baseball with 77 wins.

“I don’t think we lost very many, if any, off of our pitching staff. I think we had a pretty good pitching staff last year and I expect to be even better this year,” Wacha said.

The pitching depth sure won’t hurt.

“It’s great from a team aspect,” Lyons said, “because you never want to get to that spot where you don’t feel comfortable with someone pitching. You’re going to have people go down throughout the year and you’re going to have rough spots. It’s nice to have plenty of depth. It’s a good thing from an organizational standpoint and we’ll see how that goes this year.”

St. Louis went 97-65 in 2013 to capture the NL Central before dropping a six-game World Series to the Red Sox. Wacha believes the Cardinals have some unfinished business to take care of.

“Any time you’re wearing the birds on the bat you’ve got a chance,” he said. “That’s the mindset going into spring training. We always feel that we have a team to compete for a World Series. That’s the way we’re going to go about our business. If we don’t get to our goal we’re not going to be happy with it.”

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