9/2/2014 9:33 P.M. ET
Wacha to return to Cards' rotation Thursday
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- After 11 weeks of rest and rehab to address a stress reaction in his right shoulder, Michael Wacha is set to make his return to the Cardinals' rotation when the team opens a key intradivision series in Milwaukee on Thursday.
The Cardinals announced Wacha as the series-opening starter on Tuesday, two days after Wacha threw 34 pitches in a two-inning rehab start with the organization's Double-A affiliate. Instead of having Wacha continue to build up his pitch count in the Minors -- which he could have done since Triple-A Memphis qualified for the postseason -- the right-hander will continue that process in the center of the Cardinals' postseason push.
"As you look at what we're trying to accomplish, he fits perfect into that," general manager John Mozeliak said. "He's been working diligently for the last two months. From a physical standpoint, we had to make sure that his shoulder was where it needed to be. This guy is as strong as he's ever been."
Left-hander Marco Gonzales will be ready to come in behind Wacha on Thursday, as Wacha will be limited to a pitch count of about 50-60. The Cardinals are hopeful that Wacha is efficient enough to be able to cover four innings with that allotment.
From there, the Cardinals plan to have Wacha pitch every fifth game, increasing his pitch count by increments of 15-20. That means that by the end of the month, he will be at full strength if the club qualifies for the postseason.
"I wanted to be back a month ago, but I'm happy with where I am coming back right now," said Wacha, whose last Major League start came against the Mets on June 17. "I'm ready to get it started again. The command is still on its way with offspeed pitches. But other than that, I felt like the velocity was there. Everything else will come."
Before settling on Wacha, the Cardinals had considered both Gonzales and Tyler Lyons for the start after determining that Justin Masterson would not make another. It was Wacha's performance on Sunday -- the crispness of his pitches, the velocity, the fastball command -- that convinced the Cardinals that he could immediately be effective against Major League competition.
"We've made no question about the fact that when he's ready to go, we want him on the mound," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's something we're excited to see. His stuff was right. We'll take that."
Starting Wacha on three days' rest was not a concern for the Cardinals because of how short Wacha's outing was on Sunday. The condensed schedule did require Wacha to forgo throwing his normal in-between-starts bullpen session this week.
It is not forgotten what Wacha meant down the stretch for the Cardinals last season and, as the team hopes, the boost he could provide again. In his rookie season, Wacha allowed nine earned runs in 62 innings covering September and October.
"I think his resume speaks for itself," Mozeliak said. "When he was throwing, he could be dominant. And frankly, he's very fresh."
Motte's return among Cards' five roster adds
ST. LOUIS -- With clubs now permitted to carry as many players from their 40-man rosters as desired, the Cardinals fortified their bullpen and bench with the addition of five players on Tuesday.
Left-handers Tyler Lyons, Nick Greenwood and Marco Gonzales were all recalled from Double-A Springfield, even though none had actually reported to that affiliate for the final two games of Springfield's season. The Cardinals had made what amounted to no more than a paper move on Sunday by optioning the three pitchers to give them the roster space to then add fresh reinforcements for two days.
Catcher Tony Cruz, sent to Springfield when Yadier Molina rejoined the club on Friday, also returned to St. Louis on Tuesday, as did Jason Motte. Motte wrapped up a month-long stint on the disabled list by throwing a pain-free, 12-pitch inning for the Double-A club on Sunday.
Manager Mike Matheny confirmed that Motte would be available out of the 'pen immediately. Greenwood and Lyons should be sufficiently rested to also contribute as soon needed. The Cardinals will hold Gonzales back so that he can relieve Michael Wacha on Thursday. Wacha will be limited to 50-60 pitches, requiring the Cardinals to have a long reliever ready behind him.
While Cruz sits as the third catcher on the Cardinals' depth chart, his return will give Matheny more flexibility in using A.J. Pierzynski as a pinch-hitter instead of saving him on the bench in case the club needed him to relieve Molina behind the plate.
Rosenthal mixing in offspeed pitches more frequently
ST. LOUIS -- Teams anticipating high-90s heat from Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal may have to revisit those scouting reports, as Rosenthal has increasingly shown that he is willing to go away from his fastball to keep some guesswork in play.
That was no more evident than on Monday, when Rosenthal opened the ninth by throwing 10 straight offspeed pitches (five changeups, five curveballs) as he tried to preserve a one-run lead. It was a deliberate move to try and outwit the Pirates, who had just faced Rosenthal six days earlier.
In that last outing, Andrew McCutchen had jumped on a first-pitch fastball for a home run.
"Trevor went right into the hornet's nest against some guys who have hit him well," manager Mike Matheny said. "And I guess your rationale is, 'Well, do we keep doing what we've been doing? Or do we try to do something different and show them a different repertoire?'
"He was a flamethrowing fastball pitcher when he first came up and took over that [closer] position. Now he's a guy who can throw a curveball in there for a strike when he wants to. He can throw a behind-in-the-count changeup. Reminding a big lineup over there and showing them those other things, it can possibly help keep them in between, because those are pitches he can make in those counts."
On Monday, Rosenthal retired McCutchen with a curve and Neil Walker with a changeup. He closed the 17-pitch outing with seven straight fastballs, the last a 99-mph one that Gaby Sanchez swung through to give Rosenthal his 41st save of the season.
The sequence was a variation for Rosenthal, who has thrown 79 percent fastballs this season. The curveball, which accounts for only four percent of his season pitches, has been used with more frequency as of late.
"To watch one right after the other was impressive," Matheny said. "They weren't just sloppy secondary pitches. They were quality secondary pitches. Not just these guys, but everybody in the league, the next guys we're going to face are watching video and will be like, 'What is that?' Then he reaches back and hits 97."
• Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo was ejected in the middle of the third inning Tuesday after exchanging words with home-plate umpire James Hoye on his way back to the dugout. First-base coach Chris Maloney moved over to the third-base box to replace Oquendo, while assistant hitting coach David Bell became the team's fill-in first-base coach.
• Mark Ellis (left oblique strain) joined position players on the field during Tuesday's batting practice to participate in fielding and hitting work. It marked the first time since Ellis suffered the injury in mid-August that he had been cleared for that much baseball activity.
• Mozeliak confirmed that the Cardinals will not make any other September callups until after the Memphis club completes its run through the Triple-A playoffs. Memphis opens a best-of-five series in Omaha on Wednesday, with left-hander Tim Cooney on the mound.
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Matt Holliday, with his 12 RBIs over the last three games, joined Johnny Mize (1941) as the only Cardinals players to drive in at least a dozen runs in three straight games, all of which the Cardinals won.
• Prior to batting practice on Tuesday, Masterson completed his initiation into the Cardinals' bullpen by participating in the group's traditional "trust fall." Masterson stood on a ledge along the left-field line and fell into the arms of his fellow relievers. Masterson was moved to the bullpen this week after struggling in six August starts with the Cardinals.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.