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Cardinals shrug off questions about workload for pitcher Michael Wacha

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JUPITER, Fla. - The St. Louis Cardinals aren't setting any limits for young pitcher Michael Wacha.

"I don't see any reason why there is the buzz about the workload," St. Louis pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. "He had 170 innings last year. You can think he could be a 200-inning guy this year. At the end of the day we need some guys who can give us 200 innings."

Wacha's readiness became more important this weekend, when the Cardinals announced that Jaime Garcia had returned to St. Louis to have his surgically repaired shoulder examined. Last season, only Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn eclipsed the 200-inning mark for the Cardinals.

Shelby Miller exceeded 170 innings as a rookie, but that prompted the Cardinals to slow him down. Miller was moved to the bullpen for the post-season, opening the door for Wacha to join the rotation.

The 22-year-old Wacha exceeded Miller's innings total last season when minor league action is factored into the total. He threw nearly 100 innings in the major leagues, with 30 2-3 occurring during post-season play.

His breakout came in the post-season where went 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 33 strikeouts.

"It was a lot of fun, that's for sure, being on that kind of stage and performing the way we all did," Wacha said. "Those expectations are going to be set pretty high after the season we all just had. I just try not to listen too much and set my own expectations and try to achieve those."

The Cardinals' front office is trying to temper those expectations, too, but coaches say Wacha looks like the same pitcher they saw in the post-season.

"We always try to manage expectations in general," general manager John Mozeliak said. "There's no doubt when you see something like that happen it's easy to gravitate to higher thoughts or higher expectations."

Pitch location has been an emphasis for Wacha this spring, especially with the development of his curve ball, hoping to turn that into another plus pitch to go with a fastball that hits 97 and a deceptive change-up. The curve ball showed improvement after last season's call-up and continues to progress this spring.

"It's coming along nicely," Wacha said. "I've definitely got some more work to do. I'm definitely working on it in bullpens and side sessions, and then also the live pitching practice as well."

The Cardinals are holding off naming Wacha to their regular season rotation, but with Garcia's status unknown, it's becoming harder to assemble a rotation that doesn't include Wacha's name.

"When he's right he's working bottom of the zone with great tilt, great angle on the ball and with an above-average, right-handed change up — one of the better ones in the league already," manager Mike Matheny said. "We don't necessarily have another guy exactly like that."

NOTES: Matheny said he plans to hold All-Star catcher Yadier Molina out of the lineup during the first few Grapefruit League games. Molina has looked good in camp, so injury concerns will not drive this decision. Matheny hopes giving Molina a little time off in February and March will soften the need for extra off days during the season. ... Reliever Jordan Swaggerty is experiencing arm weakness and inflammation. He is expected to consult with physicians outside of Cardinals camp before returning to the mound.

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