September 27, 2022

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Efficient Wacha shuts down Angels: 'He's been great'

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BOSTON — The velocity and the whiff rate were hardly jumping off the page for rejuvenated Red Sox right-hander Michael Wacha on Tuesday night, nor did they need to.

Using the same recipe as in his first four starts of the season, Wacha (3-0, 1.38 ERA) never gave the opposition a chance to get in any type of groove.

While leading his new team to a 4-0 victory over the Angels, Wacha was at his best and most efficient.

Wacha threw just 60 pitches in 5 2/3 innings on a night he allowed three hits and two walks while striking out two.

The stat line wasn’t all that common because pitchers generally keep going when they are pitching that well. Since the pitch count era started in 1988, Wacha became the first Red Sox pitcher and the 15th in MLB to throw 5 2/3 scoreless innings or more on 60 pitches or less.

“It doesn’t usually go that way for the most part, but they were definitely coming out swinging early, and I was making pitches to the corners,” said Wacha, who is third among American League starters in ERA. “Whatever was over the plate, I was able to get either a take or a popup or something. So things were definitely going my way.”

With the ultra-dangerous Shoehei Ohtani coming up as the potential tying run with two outs in the sixth, Red Sox manager Alex Cora went to lefty Jake Diekman without even flinching.

“I didn’t even know what my pitch count was at the time,” said Wacha. “I try not to get ahead and look too far in advance, like, ‘This could be eight innings, or this could be a CG-type game.’ But it’s always the next inning, ‘Who do we have coming up? Let’s get through this inning and get back in the dugout as fast as we can.’”

The move worked. And as everyone knows by now, Cora is never one to go by convention. He pulled Rich Hill in a similar situation last weekend in Baltimore and the Red Sox won that game also.

“Jake did an outstanding job coming in right away and getting people out. Yeah, it’s one of those that you look up [and think it’s early for a move], but at the end of the day, like I said, when Rich pitched in Baltimore, it’s about getting 27 outs and winning the game,” Cora said. “They understand that. There are certain days that he has to get that out, but today, we felt we had Jake in that spot and from there, we just tried to get through the rest of the game.”

There was no stomping fit from Wacha, a professional veteran who gets it at this stage of his career.

“Really, I trust Cora with everything,” said Wacha. “Our bullpen came in and was lights out. It was really fun to watch them lock it down like they did.”

For those fans in the Fenway stands braving the chilly elements, it had to be fun to watch Wacha mow through the game in what seemed like fast motion.

The Angels helped with an aggressive game plan in which they continually put the ball in the hands of Boston’s defense.

“I tip my cap to Wacha over there,” said Angels righty Noah Syndergaard, who went seven strong innings in a losing effort. “He was super efficient, he was really dialed in and kept our offense at bay.”

That Angels’ offense isn’t easy to hold down. Backed by a resurgent Mike Trout, they are second in the AL with 110 runs. The Red Sox, with only 85 runs so far, are envious.

But Wacha helped Tuesday in Boston’s favor, which was particularly big coming off of a 3-7 road trip.

“Really good again,” said Cora. “They came out swinging. He was pounding the strike zone with good stuff and got some quick outs. We played some decent defense behind him, turned some double plays. For a defender, he’s a dream come true. His pace, throwing strikes, you have to be ready because the ball will get hit. So far we’ve done an outstanding job defensively behind him. He’s been great.”

After signing a modest one-year, $7 million deal just after Thanksgiving, Wacha has given the Red Sox everything they could have hoped so far.

Boston is 4-1 when Wacha takes the ball and 6-13 when he doesn’t. While nobody expects him to be the frontline pitcher he once was in St. Louis, Wacha is more than earning his keep so far, and the Sox might have landed one of the bargains of the offseason.

By the way, Wacha is not as old as you might think.

“He’s only [30],” said Cora. “He prepares, he understands information and he wants to keep getting better.”

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