ST. LOUIS — Michael Wacha inched closer to a return Monday when he threw 35 pitches in the bullpen.
The St. Louis Cardinals right-hander, who threw fastball and changeups, is on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his shoulder.
“I was expecting less,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “They’re being aggressive, with a little more intensity. It’s really close to what we normally would see when he’s out there. It just looked real effortless when the ball was coming out of his hand.”
The Cardinals already have announced Wacha will return as a starter when he’s able, probably in September.
The math is easy to do. His return would give St. Louis six starters, joining ace Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and newcomers John Lackey and Justin Masterson. It would enable Matheny to occasionally spell whoever most needs rest.
Wacha will need to face hitters before he’s ready to return, and the Cardinals are inclined to try to squeeze in a couple of starts for him before the minor-league season ends in two weeks.
“We’d like to get him in a game situation,” Matheny said.
If that doesn’t occur, Matheny pointed out that the Cardinals will have extra players at the big-league level the first week of September, which suggests a simulated game could be in order.
Next up for Wacha, Matheny said, will be at least two more bullpens; the first is scheduled for Wednesday.
Careful with Holliday
Left fielder Matt Holliday began Monday in an 0-for-18 slump that had dropped his average to .260, 48 points below his career mark.
Holliday is fighting a balky left knee and Matheny has decided to give the 34-year-old a few more innings off.
“There’s times you’re going to see him come out in the middle of the game when you might not normally,” Matheny said. “That’s just when it starts to tighten up on him and gets kind of achy --and he thinks it’s hindering what he can do out there with his jumps (on defense) or how he finishes his swings. We’re going to be cautious.”
Matheny said Holliday’s tender knee is related to his slump. Holliday first tweaked the knee Wednesday in Miami.
Reliever Carlos Martinez didn’t arrive at Busch Stadium early enough Sunday to participate in the Cardinals’ 7-6 win over San Diego. Martinez had been recalled from Class AAA Memphis when Kevin Siegrist was optioned before the contest.
Matheny said the Cardinals are apt to plug Martinez into seventh-inning situations as a bridge to Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal.
“That seventh has kind of been a tough spot for us, depending on how it up left (and) right,” the manager said. Cincinnati “has got a lineup here with a lot of right-handed hitters. You could see him coming in for a shorter stint.”
Matheny, however, said Martinez won’t be pigeon-holed into that role, noting his ability to work multiple innings.
The Cardinals are in the early stages of discussing which prospects will join them when rosters can swell to 40 players Sept. 1.
Players like Siegrist and fellow pitchers Tyler Lyons, Eric Fornataro, Jorge Rondon and Marco Gonzales, outfielder Randal Grichuk, shortstop Pete Kozma, second baseman Greg Garcia and first baseman Xavier Scruggs all are possible recalls.
“The only time it’s an inconvenience is when we have to go to Chicago and deal with that clubhouse,” Matheny said of visiting Wrigley Field, which the Cardinals will do during the final week of the regular season.
“Besides that,” Matheny said, “I like having the guys here, whether it’s young guys who had great seasons and deserve an opportunity to be here or it’s promising players we see being able to help us in the future.
“To be around this atmosphere and to be in a (playoff) push and to watch veteran guys who have been there and done that, how they keep grinding and going about their business is a positive. It’s an advantage for a young player.”
A favorite of Cardinals fans, Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips, returned to the Reds lineup Monday. Phillips had not played since July 9 when he suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb.
The Reds were 12-21 in the 33 games Phillips missed. Phillips began Monday batting .272 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs.
Cincinnati also activated reliever Logan Ondrusek.
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