Wacha, Matheny thrilled with righty's session

Cards vet feels healthy, ready to reclaim rotation spot

Wacha, Matheny thrilled with righty's session

JUPITER, Fla. -- After a winter's worth of work strengthening his body in an effort to try to prevent future shoulder issues, Michael Wacha took the mound Wednesday to showcase himself as healthy and ready to reclaim a rotation spot.

What followed was a strong first impression.

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"That's as good as I've seen him in a long time," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Right now, we don't look so much at the end result as much as how all the components look. He looked, to me, as right as I've seen him in a long time. I think he just looks stronger."

Wacha had his 2016 season interrupted by a right shoulder stress reaction, the same injury that had put him on the disabled list in '14. There are concerns about the recurring nature of this injury, and that led Wacha to alter his offseason training program to address any weak areas of his body.

And while the Cardinals saw a difference Wednesday, Wacha felt one.

"My arm feels like it's able to move freely and without any pain, and it's working the right way," he said. "I'm really happy with the way it's going, the way I'm bouncing back and recovering."

Wacha has been throwing side sessions off the mound since early February, and the Cardinals do not plan to put him on a modified spring program.

This is the first time since Wacha's breakout 2013 postseason that he enters Spring Training without a place in the rotation awaiting him. Nevertheless, he's likely the frontrunner for the fifth-starter job, especially now that top Cards prospect Alex Reyes will miss the season due to an elbow injury.

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Wacha hopes that improved strength around his shoulder can alleviate the command issues that nagged at him in 2016, when he posted a 4.45 ERA and walked 44 in 23 starts before going on the disabled list.

"I'm going in with the most positive attitude that I'm going to be healthy all year," Wacha said. "That's the goal -- to be out there for every start or whatever they need me to. I'm real positive about the work that I put in this offseason."

Siegrist slowed
Out of an abundance of precaution, lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist opted to push back his first bullpen session of spring from Wednesday to Friday after feeling tightness in the shoulder/triceps area of his pitching arm.

"We just figured it wasn't worth pushing it right now," Siegrist said. "We'll just take a little more time."

Matheny described Siegrist as one of the most prudent when it comes to pulling back in spring if something doesn't feel right. Siegrist had similar discomfort in Spring Training three years ago, skipped one bullpen session and then pitched uninhibited the rest of the way through camp.

"This is the perfect time of year to make sure we jump all over that," Matheny said. "This kid as had a lot of work, so we'll just get him ready for Day 1."

Siegrist, who is expected to slot in as one of the club's setup men, has thrown 136 1/3 innings over the past two seasons. That ranks second-most among all left-handed relievers.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.