Mets’ Michael Wacha opens up: ‘A lot left to prove’

Mets’ Michael Wacha opens up: ‘A lot left to prove’

Mets free-agent addition Michael Wacha discusses the highs and lows of his pitching career, his personal expectations, overcoming a scapula injury and more in a Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: What is your mentality on the mound?
A: Whenever I’m on the mound, not really much going through my head besides it’s kind of just mano-a-mano. It’s me verses you, and my mentality is I’m gonna beat you type of deal.

Q: Do you hate hitters?
A: Whenever I’m out there, yup.

Q: Is that important?
A: Yeah. I think you have to have that mentality, for sure.

Q: You were an All-Star in 2015. Do you believe you can be an All-Star again?
A: 100 percent, yeah. I plan on making a lot more in my career. I’m 28, I’m young, man. I’ve got a lot more years in me for sure.

Q: How would you describe your career so far?
A: Definitely some ups and downs. Still a lot left to prove though.

Q: What is it exactly you want to prove?
A: Just that I can get the job done up here at this level. That I can be one of the best in this league. That’s my mentality. I feel like whenever I’m out there, I’m one of the best in the league. Just prove to everybody … prove to myself, prove to my family that I can do it.

Q: So at one year and $3 million, you think the Mets got a steal?
A: That’s how I look at it, for sure.

Q: When you were a kid, what kind of career did you envision?
A: I never thought I’d be here (chuckle). I was undrafted out of high school [in Texarkana, Texas]. Didn’t really get recruited to many colleges out of high school either. Never thought about playing at the next level until after my freshman year in college [at Texas A&M]. Middle of my sophomore year these advisors, agents were, “Hey, we want to represent you. We think you’re gonna be a top pick in the draft. I’m like, “Wait, what? Seriously? Me?” Being here right now, every single year is a plus, I’ll tell you that.

Michael Wacha
Michael WachaAnthony J Causi

Q: Did being undrafted put a chip on your shoulder?
A: For sure. I think people telling me that, “You’re never gonna play in college,” to “You’ll never be successful in college,” to “You’ll never be in the big leagues,” I think all those people telling me that just kind of motivation for sure.

Q: What style of pitcher are you?
A: I’m gonna come right at you. I feel like there’s some pitchers that they’re nibbling on the corners trying to get you to chase or whatever, but I’ve always been one of those pitchers that tries to get my defense involved. I’m firing up in the strike zone. I’m trying to keep the pace moving. I hate slow games. I hate when pitchers are just piddling around on the mound. I like getting back on the rubber, and I like coming right at you — strike one, strike two and I might get you out right then. Whether it’s strikeout or groundout, I’m trying to keep my defense involved so they don’t fall asleep.

Q: Are you working on any specific pitch in camp?
A: Definitely just trying to refine my offspeed pitches. I feel like my fastball command is back where I need it to be.

Q: You’re friendly with Adam Wainwright. What did he tell you about that called third strike on Carlos Beltran in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the Mets to send the Cardinals to the World Series?
A: He doesn’t really boast about himself, like really ever. But what was funny was whenever I first got called up with the Cardinals, Beltran was on that team, and so my first couple of years up there, never saw any of those highlight films or anything. Like, before games they always do highlight videos of the past players, of the Cardinals winning World Series or winning the pennants and stuff, but they never showed that clip until after Beltran was off our team. And then they started showing that clip all the time. I’m like, “Jeez, I wonder why they weren’t showing it,” and then two and two put together, it’s like, “OK, it kind of makes sense.”

Q: How was Beltran as a teammate?
A: He was The Man. The way he carried himself was as professional as you could be. I remember just always looking and watching what he did in the clubhouse. He was early to the ballpark, one of the last to leave. He was in the cages, and such a great mentor for a lot of our rookies that were coming up, and for some of our young guys on how to carry yourself in the game and how to get prepared for games, and I think it paid huge dividends for a lot of ’em for sure.

Q: What was your reaction when you learned he was so involved in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal?
A: Kind of caught me off-guard, the whole thing. I didn’t expect that stuff at all.

Q: What was the low point for you dealing with your scapula injury?
A: That thing was a little tricky because it popped up on me in ’14, and then it reoccurred in ’16. So at that point, whenever I was talking to doctors, they didn’t really know anything about it. They thought it was just gonna keep reoccurring. That definitely put some doubt into my head. It was pretty tough, thinking that I might have to be pitching with this. If the case is that it’s always gonna be there, then I wouldn’t be able to pitch ’cause it was that painful. But lucky enough, I was able to find a trainer [Sam Mulroy] down in Dallas to help me get my shoulder strong enough to see where my weaknesses were in the back of my shoulder, and so we knocked that out in 2016 and have not had a sniff of it since.

Q: You feared this could be the end of your career?
A: In 2016 for sure. One of the guys that we talked to was [former pitcher] Brandon McCarthy, he was the only person that we had found in the big leagues that had the same stress reaction, but it was like a stress fracture. We linked up with that same guy down in Dallas that helped him as well.

Q: The trainer cured you?
A: Yup, it was all weights.

Q: If you could test your skills against one batter in MLB history, who would it be?
A: [Ken] Griffey [Jr.].

Q: If you could pick the brain of one pitcher in MLB history, who would it be?
A: I was always a Randy Johnson fan, just big dude, just gnarly on the mound. I think it’d be pretty cool to see his mental side of the game.

Q: Ryan Zimmerman spoiled your no-hitter with two outs in the ninth in 2013.
A: I’ve never seen him run that fast down the line before (laugh). I painted a fastball down and away, and I’m like, “I’ve got it. This is it.” Bounces over my head just further enough away from my glove. Pete Kozma comes in, bare-hands it, throws it, pulls Matt Adams off the base just by a tad.

Q: You never pitched a no-hitter at any level?
A: In college, I had a perfect game going into the ninth, and a dropped third strike ended that one where my catcher threw it to right field. So that was a tough way to lose it. And then that game against the Nationals, and then I had a no-hitter into the ninth against the Pirates in 2018 as well. Three outs away, 0-2, [Colin] Moran, he just dug a changeup. Maybe if [Kolten] Wong was a little taller at second base, I think he mighta caught it, but just a little fella (laugh).

Q: Describe outdueling Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 of the 2013 NLCS, 1-0.
A: That was my rookie year, that 2013 postseason. I still don’t know if I exactly knew what I was doing at the time. I didn’t really care who was pitching on the other side, it was just me against those hitters at that point. It was a lot of fun for sure.

Q: Describe the series-end home run you allowed to Travis Ishikawa in Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS against the Giants.
A: That’s another painful memory. You’re crushing me right now (smile). I’m in here sweatin’ right now. I feel like I’ve experienced some of the highest highs in the postseason and obviously some of the lowest of lows — whenever you give up the walkoff to end the season. It just kind of makes you who you are as player and who you are as a person, and it’s all just how you respond to those types of things. I know that offseason I was very motivated. 2015 was the All-Star [season] the next year. It’s either you can lay down and pout about it, or else you can go out there and get better and take it upon yourself.

Q: Describe Game 6 of the 2013 World Series at Fenway, when you gave up six runs in 3 ²/₃ innings in a 6-1 loss.
A: That was a tough one there as well. It was a rowdy crowd up there, it was a clinching game for them, so they were bringing everything they got, and then, late in the season, sometimes you just kinda run out of gas.

Q: What is your best baseball moment?
A: It’s hard to beat your debut [May 30, 2013]. I think that was one of the most special nights, walking out there, first time pitching in a big stadium [Busch Stadium] like that. You feel like a gladiator in a coliseum type of deal with all the people, you’re just center stage. It was a good night, I pitched seven innings, one-run ball, a couple of hits [getting a no-decision in a 4-2 loss], and had all my family there and friends.

Q: Describe the 2015 All-Star game.
A: I didn’t get to pitch in the All-Star Game. The Cardinals didn’t want me pitching there, they said they wanted me to save my innings. I think I had just pitched a few days before. It was in Cincinnati, the Home Run Derby was awesome, the parade to the ballpark, you got your own truck, you got screaming fans the whole way down, I’ll never forget that. The game was awesome. I remember talking with [Jacob] deGrom quite a bit there, just getting to pick his brain a little bit.

Q: What are your observations about deGrom as a teammate?
A: He’s a gamer. He’s that competitive guy that you need on the mound. He brings it every night. He’s obviously got electric stuff, but you see other guys in the league with electric stuff but still don’t do what he does.

Q: Do you think Noah Syndergaard can win a Cy Young?
A: I think those two will be battling it out — and I’d like to throw my name out there, too. Noah’s a helluva talent. He’s obviously got every tool in the book.

Q: You’ve known Marcus Stroman from 2011?
A: We played on the collegiate USA team. I remember telling my dad back then like, “Hey, this guy’s got the nastiest slider I’ve ever seen,” and sure enough, he’s in the big leagues punching out everybody with that thing.

Q: Describe Pete Alonso.
A: Baller.

Q: How have you done against him?
A: Not good (laugh). I gave up probably the farthest home run against him that I’ve ever given up. He put me in the third deck up there [Citi Field]. I think it’s still in the air. You could probably get up there and watch it land. It was a 3-1 changeup right down the middle.

Q: How many home runs can he hit in a season?
A: I’m not putting any ceiling on that dude because he will exceed those expectations for sure.

Q: Could he hit 60 home runs one day?
A: I believe so. And I think he’ll tell you the same thing.

Q: What kind of guy is he?
A: Great teammate. I remember talking to him on first base, ’cause I ended up getting a hit in that same game. He’s like, “Yeah I’m just up there swinging like an angry gorilla” or something (laugh).

Q: Well, he’s called Polar Bear.
A: Yeah, I know. But he said, “I’m just taking gorilla hacks,” or something up there, and I was like, “That was definitely a gorilla hack.” He’s got a great mentality for this game, and he’s just an awesome human being.

Q: Jeff McNeil.
A: He’s an aggressive hitter. He’ll tell you straight to your face he’s gonna swing the bat. And you know that going into games, and it gets into the pitcher’s head knowing that this guy’s gonna be swinging the bat. Heckuva fielder, can play a lot of different positions, and one of the best hitters I’ve seen in this league.

Q: Michael Conforto.
A: Stud. He just carries himself the right way. He’s not really show-boatin’ or anything, just a quiet, level-headed dude that absolutely rakes.

Q: Ahmed Rosario.
A: High-energy guy, brings it every single game. Just looking forward to him turning a lot of double plays this year behind me. I’ve always been a contact pitcher, not really punch out too many guys, and so having those good defenders behind me I’m a big fan of.

Q: Who were your favorite pitchers growing up?
A: I grew up a Cubs fun, and I really liked watching Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

Q: Who are athletes outside baseball you admire?
A: Here recently, I’ve really enjoyed watching Patrick Mahomes. The way he just carried himself at his age, and seems like no stage is too big for him.

Q: You were a Johnny Manziel fan.
A: Johnny Football. I feel like he was one of the first people where he had a camera on him at all times, no matter where he went. He could not act like a normal college student at all. People were judging every action that he did, but he was one of the greatest players that I’ve ever seen play.

Q: Your younger brother Lucas is a linebacker for the XFL Tampa Bay Vipers.
A: Luke’s about 6-2, 240 [pounds], can absolutely run. I wouldn’t want to get hit by him.

Q: You got engaged in late January. How did you propose to Sarah?
A: We were in Dallas, just kind of got her out there on a lunch date, a little picnic with the skyline view of Dallas, and ended up dropping to a knee out there. Had her surprised, she wasn’t really expecting it, so it was a good night.

Q: Describe your parents.
A: Just pushed me to be the best person I could be on and off the field. They were always driving me across the state, or across the country, to Florida, to South Carolina for these tournaments. Looking back, other parents definitely didn’t do that for their kids.

Q: What drives you?
A: Just trying to be the best me. I try to always represent myself and my family as best as I can. I know whenever I’m out there on the mound, it’s a direct reflection of who my family is and how they’ve raised me.

Q: Three dinner guests?
A: [Derek] Jeter, Brett Favre, LeBron James.

Q: Why Jeter?
A: Had a 2 jersey, or whatever a shersey, back in the day. I was a shortstop, and always practiced the Jeter hop and throw from the hole.

Q: Why Favre?
A: I was born in Iowa. I was a Packers fan growing up, and he was the gunslinger, played so many games in a row through injury, didn’t matter how he felt, you knew that you could pencil him in there for whatever how many years straight — which was pretty crazy, especially in that sport.

Q: Why LeBron?
A: He’s just the best of his generation really in his sport.

Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Billy Madison.”

Q: Favorite actors?
A: Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell.

Q: Favorite actress?
A: Jennifer Lawrence.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: Blake Shelton.

Q: Favorite meal?
A: Steak and potatoes.

Q: Coronavirus?
A: Wash your hands. If you’re sick, don’t be around other people. Just stay home.

Q: How did the Kobe Bryant tragedy affect you?
A: It was just heartbreaking. Just couldn’t imagine the pain that his family and his daughters are feeling. Just so tragic. I’m sure he was just protecting her [his 13-year-old daughter Gianna] all the way down, you just have images of that. And it’s just so sad.

Q: Are you looking forward to playing on the New York stage?
A: I’m excited about it. Just ready to get out there in front of those passionate fans, and just giving it everything I got and leaving it all on the field.

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