The St. Louis Cardinals will unleash another rookie hurler when Michael Wacha makes his much-anticipated debut Thursday versus the Kansas City Royals in the conclusion of the I-70 series from Busch Stadium.
Wacha, a former Texas A&M standout, is ranked as the Cardinals' No. 4 prospect according to MLB.com and will become the quickest Cardinals pitcher to make his debut following the draft since Cris Carpenter in 1987.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny talked about how he will handle Wacha.
"We've got a lot of things to think about when it comes to a young pitcher like this," Matheny said. "We have to think about the amount of innings over the long haul here and how we can help put him in a good situation to help us still be on track with the right amount of work. There are some thoughts and concerns as we go forward, but right now we did need a quality starter and he was pitching very well and has an opportunity to play and help us here."
The right-hander and 19th overall selection in last June's draft went 4-0 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 2.05 earned run average in nine starts for Triple-A Memphis. Wacha will become the eighth rookie pitcher to appear on the Cardinals' roster this season and the club has a major league-leading 12 wins from rookies this season.
St. Louis used some veteran leadership to squeeze out a 5-3 win over the Royals on Wednesday, as Carlos Beltran opened a four-run eighth inning with a solo home run. David Freese then singled home a run and Daniel Descalso added a two-run single one out later to give the Cardinals some breathing room. Matt Holliday homered and both Allen Craig and Yadier Molina notched three hits.
Beltran is batting .280 with six homers and 15 RBI this month for St. Louis, which is 2 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for the NL Central lead and has won four straight, seven of eight and 21 of the last 27 games.
"Once we were able to get into their bullpen we were able to take advantage of those guys and get some big runs," Beltran said of K.C.'s relievers.
Randy Choate recorded the final out of the top of the eighth inning to collect the win, while Edward Mujica tossed a perfect ninth to notch his 17th save in as many opportunities this season. Lance Lynn was aiming for his eighth win, but was slapped with a no-decision after he tossed seven innings of two-run ball and struck out four.
The Cards, who improved to 29-3 when scoring three-plus runs, are undefeated in their last nine series (8-0-1). They opened a nine-game homestand last night and will next host San Francisco for three games this weekend.
Kansas City has hit the skids rather hard, having lost eight straight, 12 of 13 and 19 of its last 23 games.
In Wednesday's loss in the opener of a five-game jaunt, the Royals' bullpen wasted a solid outing from Luis Mendoza, who delivered 5 2/3 innings of one- run ball with five K's and three walks. Aaron Crow was responsible for all four runs in the eighth to absorb the loss.
Alex Gordon posted three hits and a run scored for Kansas City.
"It was just one of those games where we thought we were going to break through with some big innings, but we just couldn't get those hits," said Kansas City manager Ned Yost.
Yost hopes his offense can come alive when Jeremy Guthrie takes the mound Thursday in hopes of ending his personal three-game slide. Guthrie is 0-3 with a 7.91 earned run average during the winless skid and posted a club-record 18 consecutive starts without a defeat from Aug. 8, 2012-May 9, 2013. He posted 10 wins during that impressive run.
Guthrie, who started the season 5-0 in seven starts, retired the first 10 batters he saw in Saturday's 7-0 loss against the LA Angels and carried a no- hitter into the sixth inning until the floodgates opened. He eventually was reached for seven runs -- six earned -- and five hits, including two homers, in 7 1/3 innings. He allowed four runs in the eighth and sits at 5-3 in 10 starts with a 3.92 ERA.
"I felt strong. I felt like I could have gone out there and given up no hits for nine," Guthrie said after the start. "But they did a good job on the two home runs and then the eighth-inning things just seemed to unravel."
Guthrie has surrendered nine home runs in his last four outings. The right- hander lost his only start against St. Louis even though he was solid through six innings, allowing two runs and six hits.
Kansas City will visit Texas for three games over the weekend and lost four of six meetings with St. Louis in last season's I-70 Series. The Royals are 4-11 in the last 15 matchups between the club's and winless in the previous six.