PITTSBURGH -- Just 17 months ago, Michael Wacha was pitching at Texas A&M.
On Monday afternoon, the rookie right-hander will be starting for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 4 of the National League Division Series at PNC Park. That is quite a quick ascension through the farm system, even for pitcher with the pedigree of being a first-round draft pick in 2012.
"It's definitely been a crazy past year," Wacha said. "Whenever I came to spring training this past season, the goal was to get up here to St. Louis and help them win some ballgames.
"I wouldn't really say whenever I was in college my junior year that I would ever have thought of this but I just look at it as an opportunity to take advantage of. I'm really excited about being able to pitch in the postseason."
Wacha, 22, was 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 15 games, including nine starts, in the regular season. He nearly threw a no-hitter in his last start Sept. 24 against the Washington Nationals, giving up a two-out infield single to Ryan Zimmerman.
"He's mature beyond his years and beyond his experience," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We put him to the test, pitching late in the season. Watching him take a no-hitter into the ninth inning and kind of watching how he's handled every step along the way, we learned that early about him in spring training. And he's going to be better from this opportunity and for every day he has here with us."
Shortstop Clint Barmes was back in the Pirates' lineup for Game 3 on Sunday.
Manager Clint Hurdle opted to play Jordy Mercer at shortstop in Game 2 on Friday to infuse some offense into the lineup. Mercer went 1-for-3 with an intentional walk.
Mercer hit .285 with eight home runs during the regular season while Barmes batted .211 with five home runs. However, Barmes is considered the better defensive player and Game 3 starter Francisco Liriano is more of a ground ball pitcher than Game 2 starter Gerrit Cole.
"It's been matchups, based on a lot of different criteria," Hurdle said on how the Pirates are deciding on their starting shortstop. "We'll factor in offensive analysis, hard numbers, projectile numbers, defensive metrics, pitcher on the mound. There's no secret sauce, but we're going to keep an eye out, be mindful of a few things."
Kevin McClatchy, who was the Pirates principal owner from 1996-2007, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. McClatchy put together an ownership group that bought the Pirates and kept them from potentially leaving Pittsburgh and also gained state funding for the building of PNC Park, which opened in 2001.