MIAMI (AP) — Michael Wacha was so excited to make his first start in nearly three weeks that he set the alarm in his hotel room for 4 o’clock.
That’s 4 p.m.
The well-rested Wacha pitched six scoreless innings in his return to the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation Monday, and they broke a three-game losing streak by beating Miami 4-1.
Wacha (4-2), who was briefly demoted to the bullpen, benefited from three double plays and a pickoff in his first start since May 22. The former All-Star allowed five hits, struck out four and lowered his ERA to 5.63.
“He kind of re-established himself,” manager Mike Shildt said. “He was tremendous. He’s a legitimate rotation guy, and when right, he can be a top-of-the-line guy. He has proven that. He proved it tonight.”
Wacha and his teammates arrived in Miami shortly before sunrise after losing at Wrigley Field on Sunday night, when the Cubs completed a series sweep.
“I probably didn’t go to sleep until about 5,” Wacha said. “I woke up at 2, had a little food and went back to sleep until 4. Not the normal schedule, but you’ve got to make it work sometimes.”
Wacha said if he hadn’t set an alarm, he would have slept some more.
There was no wakeup call for the Cardinals offense. They totaled only four hits but scored three unearned runs in the sixth, when catcher Jorge Alfaro made a wild throw on a sacrifice bunt.
“I’m mad at myself,” Alfaro said. “I just threw it away.”
Alfaro was also picked off second , and his error provided the cushion the Cardinals needed. John Gant followed Wacha and allowed one run in two innings. Jordan Hicks worked around a leadoff single in the ninth and struck out two for his 13th save.
The Marlins, saddled with the National League’s worst record, have scored nine runs while losing five games in a row. Manager Don Mattingly was unhappy with his team’s approach against Wacha.
“Really disappointing with the energy,” Mattingly said. “We got away from our game plan. We wanted to get the ball up on this guy. We chased down, and we chased in.”
Wacha walked two, threw only 75 pitches and earned another start Saturday at the New York Mets. He downplayed his desire to reclaim a spot in the rotation.
“I just pitch whenever they tell me to,” he said.
Sandy Alcantara (3-6), facing his former team for the first time, struggled through five-plus innings and allowed four runs, but only one was earned.
“I was excited to face my old teammates,” Alcantara said. “I tried to do my job, but today was not my day.”
After the Cardinals’ first two batters reached in the sixth, Kolten Wong laid down a bunt, and both runners scored when Alfaro threw the ball down the right field line. Wong, batting fifth, said he might have surprised the Marlins by not swinging away.
“Wins are hard to come by right now for us,” Wong said. “I’m trying to do whatever I can to put guys in scoring position. Things haven’t been going our way, so you do whatever you can.”
Harrison Bader followed with a sacrifice fly.
The Cardinals scored the first run in the fourth on doubles by Marcell Ozuna and Yairo Muñoz.
TAKE A BREAK
Cardinals SS Paul DeJong was given the night off. It was the first game he has missed.
Derek Jeter watched JJ Bleday have a big night at the Southeastern Conference tournament, which may be one reason the Marlins took the Vanderbilt outfielder with the fourth pick in the draft last week.
“I only saw one game, and he was 5 for 5,” said Jeter, the Marlins’ CEO. “I told him everything is downhill from this point forward.”
Cardinals: RHP Dakota Hudson (4-3, 3.94) is scheduled to start Tuesday. He has an ERA of 2.19 over his past four outings, and the Cardinals have won each game.
Marlins: RHP Elieser Hernandez (0-0, 9.00) will be recalled from Triple-A New Orleans to make his first start of the season as a replacement for LHP Caleb Smith (left hip inflammation). It’ll be the first time one of the Marlins’ five starters to begin the season has missed a turn.
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