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STL@CHC: Wacha fans six over six innings for Cards

The last time Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha took the hill at PNC Park, Pirates fans performed a thunderous Fozzie Bear impression as Pittsburgh carried a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of the National League Division Series.

"Wa-cha! Wa-cha!"

Wacha, who will start Friday night's series opener for St. Louis in Pittsburgh, had the last laugh, striking out nine in 7 1/3 no-hit innings before giving up a solo home run to Pedro Alvarez. Wacha's effort helped force a Game 5 and propel St. Louis to the National League pennant.

"I just tried to use that -- it kind of brings me -- I kind of like it," Wacha said of the crowd's energy. "It kind of gives me adrenaline. I kind of use it in my favor. Just to try to stay locked in with [catcher Yadier Molina], and it worked out pretty well."

Wacha went on to compile a 2.64 ERA in five postseason starts, creating a wave of momentum he has carried into this season. The right-hander owns a 2.55 ERA and has recorded six quality starts in seven turns.

However, his success has not translated to his record. Wacha is 2-3 and has lost three of his past four starts. He surrendered only two runs in six innings on Saturday against the Cubs, but the Cardinals were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in a 3-0 loss.

"I was also hitting today and didn't get [runners] over and then struck out," Wacha said following the loss. "I mean, I'm at fault there today as well."

Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano has had even worse luck than Wacha in the win column. He enters Friday still searching for his first victory of the season.

However, despite his slow start, a win on Friday would actually put Liriano ahead of the pace he set during his 16-win season in 2013. The left-hander did not make his first start last season until May 11 after beginning the season on the disabled list.

Injuries have played a role in Liriano's start this season, as he dealt with a groin strain during Spring Training and experienced dizziness on April 26. Despite lasting only 3 2/3 innings on Saturday, however, Liriano considers his most recent start a success.

"He commented that it was the best he's felt all season," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Pirates: Rodriguez struggles in rehab start
• Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (right knee inflammation) struggled in a rehab start with Double-A Altoona on Tuesday, giving up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. The lefty gave up seven hits, walked three, struck out five and threw 93 pitches.

Thirty-nine of those pitches came in a seven-run fourth. Hurdle chose to focus on the positives when discussing the outing Wednesday.

"He had six 'ups,' and that was as important as anything," Hurdle said. "And [according to] the report I got, he threw all his pitches. The first three innings were crisp -- nine up, nine down."

Cardinals: Craig gets day off to combat slow start
• St. Louis manager Mike Matheny gave Allen Craig the day off Wednesday because he felt the right fielder's swing does not look right. Craig is batting .202 (26-for-129) with eight walks, 25 strikeouts and a .252 on-base percentage.

"He'll be the one to tell you, too, that he doesn't feel that far off. It doesn't look that far off," Matheny said. "It's just that little bit of extra that is keeping him from being locked in. Usually that just comes from just some pretty consistent success."

Craig appeared to be turning the corner on April 30 when a 4-for-5 performance helped him climb north of the Mendoza line. However, he is 2-for-20 since, a line Matheny feels is not indicative of Craig's talent.

"It's a shame, but it's part of the game that you go through this, and it's part of the conversations that we continue to have. It's happened to every good hitter," Matheny said. "Typically, it's something that is good for you in the long haul -- whether it's an appreciation deal or a better knowledge of yourself and the mentality that it takes to compete at this level for a long time. He's the kind of player that should be able to have that success for a long while. Sometimes spurts like this help that to happen."

Worth noting
• The Pirates and the Cardinals were evenly matched in 2013. Pittsburgh won 13 of the 25 regular-season meetings, and St. Louis won the NLDS, 3-2.

• Aside from their one-hit showing against Wacha in October, current Pirates are batting just .133 (2-for-15) against the Cardinals' right-hander.

• Jhonny Peralta is batting .325 (13-for-40) with a double, two homers, six RBIs, seven walks and 13 strikeouts against Liriano.

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