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Michael Wacha: 'I feel like a new man out there'

Star pitcher from Texarkana gets Boston Red Sox contract November 29, 2021 at 10:00 p.m.

BOSTON -- No longer the young gun who fired a gem at Fenway Park to lead the St. Louis Cardinals to victory in Game 2 of the 2013 World Series, 30-year-old right-hander Michael Wacha has signed with the Red Sox, hoping that Boston will be the spot where he gets his once-promising career back on track.

Wacha, who in high school starred for Pleasant Grove in Texarkana, is coming off a so-so season with the Tampa Bay Rays, in which he went 3-5 with a 5.05 ERA in 29 games (23 starts).

That left Wacha available for the Red Sox at a modest contract of one year at $7 million. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound pitcher also had a one-year deal with the Rays for $3 million last season.

This will be Wacha's fourth team -- the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox -- in four years.

It is a no-strings-attached type of deal in which Wacha will strive for a rebound while the Red Sox can reap the benefits.

Wacha believes that 2021 was a good foundational year during which he was able to at last pitch with good health again and start to get rid of some of the mechanical flaws that he'd developed.

"I'm extremely confident," Wacha said during a Zoom call on Saturday. "I feel like, last year, I just had some ups and downs. Felt like it clicked there for a little bit and then things wouldn't really go the way I'd planned. But toward the end of the season, I felt like the ball was coming out and my repertoire and ... my approach on the mound was where I needed to be to move forward.

"I'm very confident in myself and my work ethic and my competitiveness, to go out there, compete and get the job done. I'm looking forward to getting back to that role where I'm out there dominant and getting some good wins for this club."

Wacha, who was born in Iowa City, Iowa, moved to Texas when he was about 3 and his father, Tom Wacha, an electrical engineer, took a job for International Paper in Domino, Texas.

Wacha was a lanky and skinny baseball player for Pleasant Grove High School, where he led the Hawks to back-to-back state finals in 2008 and 2009.

Despite being voted first-team all-state and making the all-tournament team, he was not drafted out of high school. Some scouting reports said Wacha needed to learn more about the mechanics and fundamentals of pitching and to get stronger physically and tougher mentally.

A three-year stint followed at Texas A&M where his mid-90s fastball and ground-ball inducing sinker caught the eyes of pro scouts. He was selected in the first round (19th overall) in 2013 by the Cardinals. He had a meteoric rise into the 'The Big Show,' and a star was born at 22.

A pair of pitching gems made him appear even taller than his 6-6 wingspan (his father, Tom, is 6-5) and the home plate level plus 10-inch mound height.

As a boyish-looking rookie, Wacha rode his fastball (94-95 mph) and target-practice accuracy to two shutouts victories for the Cardinals (1-0 and 9-0) over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, 4-2.

The writers covering the series voted Wacha the MVP of the NLCS. And he won both games by outperforming Clayton Kershaw, who won the second of his three Cy Young awards in 2013. Kershaw made it back-to-back Cy Youngs in 2014, to go with his first top pitching award in 2011.

In 2015, Wacha proved what he can be when he puts it all together, going 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. As recently as 2018, Wacha went 8-2 with a 3.20 ERA, but his season was curtailed because of health reasons.

Wacha is anxious to see what the next chapter of his baseball career brings. To do his part, he admits he will need to be healthy. Over the years, he has had ailments to the following body parts: Right hamstring, right shoulder, left knee and left oblique.

"Last year was probably the best my shoulder and elbow felt in my whole career," Wacha said. "I feel like I'm in a great spot right now with my health and where it's at."

Wacha will be entering his 10th MLB season in the spring of '22. His career totals are 63 wins, 48 losses, 4.14 earned run average, 917 strikeouts.

"I would say 2020 wasn't a great year with the (pandemic) shutdown and getting back into it, I wouldn't say I ever got back to where I was in that Spring Training," Wacha said. "I felt like my velocity picked up this year, (which) was a good sign with my arm strength and how my body was moving. And I felt like the changeup was as nasty as it's been in my whole career.

"I feel like a new man out there. I felt really good this past year and so looking forward to keep moving forward with it."

Wacha said he will try to leave behind "any doubt" in spring training that I should be part of the Red Sox's rotation.

"Oh, I 100% feel like that. I feel like any spot, every year that I start up in spring training, I'm always trying to earn that spot and prove to people that I belong in that situation," Wacha said. "This is no different than any other year where I'm coming in and I'm putting in the work in the offseason and going out there and competing my tail off and trying to get people out, put up good numbers and get some wins for this club."

Wacha also will have a different view of the "Green Monster" (the 37-foot-2-inch high wall that's 310 feet from home plate).

And this time, Wacha will have the rabid fans of Fenway Park at his back instead of in his face. And that ring the Red Sox took away from him when he lost Game 6 of the 2013 World Series -- the one that clinched the series for Boston (4-2) -- is one he can now try to earn for his new team.

"I'll tell you that one of the most electric atmospheres I've ever pitched in was at Fenway Park," Wacha said. "You mentioned the 2013 World Series where it was bananas out there. It was 30,000-40,000 fans and they are just screaming at the top of their lungs and creating that atmosphere that you love playing in.

"It's going to be a lot more fun whenever they're cheering you on and they're on my side."

(Texarkana writer Rick Thomas contributed to this story.)

Print Headline: Michael Wacha: 'I feel like a new man out there'

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