LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A decision that had been hinted at for weeks became official on Sunday when manager Mike Matheny confirmed that Michael Wacha will begin the season in the Cardinals' rotation.
"Right now, [I'm] happy with the way all five are going about it," Matheny said. "We're in a good place. I really, really like our starting staff."
Wacha entered Spring Training without a confirmed rotation spot, needing to prove that he had moved beyond the shoulder issues that derailed his 2014 and '16 seasons. He did so without a glitch.
After watching Wacha's first bullpen session, Matheny declared that it was "as good as I've seen him in a long time." Wacha rode that positive first impression into Grapefruit League play, where he has posted a 2.65 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over five starts. Wacha has struck out 15 and walked four over 17 innings. He has two spring starts remaining.
"I think the spring, overall, has been going pretty well," Wacha said. "I've been throwing strikes. I just have to keep getting better."
Competition for the final rotation spot faded as spring deepened. Alex Reyes bowed out of the battle within days of camp opening when he underwent Tommy John surgery. Luke Weaver, who made eight starts for the Cardinals last season, dealt with efficiency issues and nagging back tightness. Trevor Rosenthal's attempt to make a push for a starting job was interrupted by lat discomfort.
However, Wacha wasn't simply the last pitcher standing. He was also the most deserving. In addition to rediscovering command of his fastball and changeup, Wacha has spent the spring throwing his curveball with more conviction.
Whether he'll be able to make a full season's worth of starts and/or push toward 200 innings will depend upon how his shoulder holds up. Wacha is coming off a year in which he threw 138 innings.
The other four starters, though, will not enter the season with any predetermined innings limitations. A year after featuring a rotation that had zero starters reach the 200-inning mark, the Cardinals could conceivably feature as many as four in 2017.
"I know what they want. Every one of them wants 200," Matheny said. "Realizing that [deep starts] was something that wasn't a strong suit for us last year is something definitely on their mind and, I think, statistically that winning teams need those guys. Starting pitchers are going to have to be horses. So that's my hope."
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.