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Four things to know about new Red Sox pitcher Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha had a difficult 2021 for the Rays, struggling in a long-relief role but improving some when moved to the rotation.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The Red Sox made their first notable signing off the offseason official on Saturday, agreeing to terms with pitcher Michael Wacha on a one-year deal that’s worth $7 million.

Wacha, 30, has played nine seasons in the majors, spending his first six with the Cardinals. After playing for the Mets in 2020, he pitched for the Rays last season.

Here are four things to know about Wacha.

He has some history against the Red Sox in big games

The Red Sox aren’t strangers to Wacha.

As a rookie, Wacha played a pivotal role in the Cardinals’ rotation, helping them win the National League pennant in 2013. Wacha pitched nearly 14 scoreless innings over two starts in the NLCS win over the Dodgers to earn the MVP of the series.

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That set up a World Series date with Red Sox. In his first start of the series, Wacha pitched six innings and allowed two runs to help the Cardinals win Game 2. The Red Sox got their revenge in Wacha’s next start, pounding him for six runs over 3 ⅔ innings pitched to help clinch the World Series win at Fenway.

Wacha has some less-than-fond memories of that night in October 2013, but he appears to be happy to have the Fenway Faithful on his side now.

“I’ll tell you what, some of the most electric atmospheres I’ve ever pitched in [were] at Fenway Park,” Wacha told reporters Saturday. “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.”

Wacha also faced the Red Sox as a member of the Rays in this past season’s ALDS. In Game 2, Wacha came out of the bullpen and was shellacked, giving up six runs on nine hits over 2 2/3 innings as the Red Sox won 14-6.

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He had a shaky 2021 season

Wacha’s lone season in Tampa wasn’t one for the history books.

After signing a one-year, $3 million deal in the offseason, Wacha bounced between the Rays’ starting rotation and bullpen for the first three months of the season.

Wacha struggled in a long-relief role for the Rays. He gave up 16 earned runs over 17 1/3 innings pitched on six relief outings, giving him an 8.31 ERA as a reliever last season.

So, the Rays made Wacha a full-time starter. He had some better success, going 3-5 with a 4.53 ERA over 23 starts. While Wacha’s numbers for the full season looked pedestrian, he pitched better in the final month of the season. He gave up 10 earned runs over 30 innings, going 1-1 over five starts and a relief appearance.

Wacha was encouraged by how he ended last season as it appears he’ll be a part of the Red Sox’ starting rotation next season.

“I’m extremely confident,” Wacha said. “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 towards 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.

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“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.”

Health issues have plagued his career

After his strong rookie season in 2013, it appeared Wacha could potentially be an ace for years to come. He did have a strong 2014 season (5-6 with a 3.20 ERA) and earned his first All-Star nod after going 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA in 2015.

But injuries to his right shoulder, which first began in 2014, forced Wacha to miss time. He missed several starts in 2014 and a pair of starts in 2015, then again missed time in 2016 due to right shoulder inflammation, missing a month total.

Wacha finally had a full year of health in 2017, but in 2018 a left oblique strain cut his season short after 15 starts.

The 2019 season brought good health, but it didn’t bring good results. He had a 5.59 ERA through his first nine starts of the season, which led the Cardinals to move Wacha to the bullpen. That ended up being his final year in St. Louis as Wacha signed a one-year deal with the New York Mets during the offseason.

In the shortened 2020 season, Wacha made seven of his eight appearances as a starter, going 1-4 with a 6.62 ERA.

With a couple of healthy seasons in a row, Wacha believes his days dealing with injuries are over.

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

Wacha has a diverse repertoire

Wacha has five pitches in his repertoire: a fastball, a changeup, a cutter, a curveball, and a sinker.

His fastball is his primary pitch, but he’s been using it less and less over the years. In 2013, 63.9 percent of Wacha’s pitches were four-seam fastballs. Last season, that number was 36.2 percent.

Wacha’s fastball averaged 93.8 mph last season, getting hitters to whiff at 18.3 percent of his fastballs, his best mark in four seasons.

His second-most frequent pitch was his changeup, 29.4 percent of his pitches. Wacha’s changeup has generated the most swings and misses in his career, with opposing hitters whiffing at his changeup 34.2 percent of the time in 2021.

The third pitch Wacha heavily uses is a cutter, which he used 24.8 percent of the time. Wacha’s cutter, which traveled at an average velocity of 89.1 mph, had a whiff rate of 15 percent in last season.

Wacha uses his curveball and sinker less frequently.

Wacha feels good about his repertoire going into 2022.

“I felt like my velo ticked up this year, [which] was a good sign with my arm strength and how my body was moving,” Wacha said. “And I felt like the changeup was as nasty as it’s been in my whole career, and so I feel like a new man out there. I felt really good this this past year and so looking forward to keep moving forward with it.”

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