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Wacha's changeup presents problem for Pirates

| Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha watches action from the dugout Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Pirates at PNC Park.

This spring, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called Michael Wacha's changeup the best in the organization. Wacha was nine months removed from pitching at Texas A&M.

Wacha, the Cardinals' starter Monday for Game 4 of the National League Division Series, throws a traditional circle changeup, but pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said the pitch has so much late fade that it resembles a screwball.

This is a major problem for the Pirates, who are the worst changeup-hitting team in baseball, according to the Baseball Info Solutions statistic “changeup runs above average.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Wacha's mid-90s fastball makes his changeup difficult to hit.

“When you can throw 98 with your hands up top … and (the changeup) looks like it's that fastball, but then it turns out to be that changeup and one that bottoms out, it's a really tough combination to handle,” Hurdle said. “That (near) no-hitter game, he threw (Ryan) Zimmerman four straight changeups right-on-right. You have to have a very good changeup to do that.”

That doesn't bode well for Pirates such as Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte, who respectively own 45 percent and 43 percent swinging strike rates on off-speed pitches this season.

Wacha said Texas A&M coach Rob Childress helped him develop the pitch.

“I've always had it ever since I was high school. I just kind of refined it in college with my pitching coach,” Wacha said. “I guess the velocity separation makes it so (effective).”

Wacha, a 2012 first-round compensation pick for the Angels signing Albert Pujols, is 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA as a rookie. He is striking out 9.1 batters per nine innings.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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