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One of the reasons the Cardinals returned ascending prospect Michael Wacha to Class AAA Memphis was so they can control his outings and limit his innings to avoid undo stress on the young righthander’s arm.

The process already has started.

In a move that general manager John Mozeliak said was necessary to “bank some innings for later in the year,” Wacha will skip at least two turns through the Triple-A rotation and do his work in bullpen sessions. The righty, taken 19th overall in last year’s draft, is not scheduled to make his next start until July 2, though the Cards have kept his schedule flexible as they monitor his work.

“Just trying to get him a little breather,” Mozeliak said. “We will still get him work on the side. We just don’t want to watch it all pile up and feel like we can’t be prepared to use him when we need him.”

Rookie Shelby Miller received a similar break at Memphis a year ago.

Wacha made three starts at the major-league level and one start for the Redbirds since his return to Class AAA. He allowed three runs on eight hits in five innings and struck out six.

The Cards plan to be conservative with the amount of innings Wacha throws this season so that he doesn’t see a dramatic spike in work. In 13 games overall, Wacha has thrown 751/3 innings. He pitched a total of 1341/3 innings last season between college and the pros.

The Cardinals want Wacha to work on his curveball and improve the command of his fastball. Sharper secondary pitches will help his efficiency when he returns to the majors.

The Cardinals have positioned both Wacha and prospect Carlos Martinez as potential additions to the rotation if a starter is needed. Joe Kelly has been moved from the bullpen to the fifth spot in the rotation, though manager Mike Matheny allowed for the possibility that the Cardinals could go with a four-man rotation on their upcoming trip because of the off days.

MOLINA Takes Lead IN VOTING

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina moved ahead of San Francisco Giants catcher and reigning MVP Buster Posey in the latest round of All-Star voting, according to tallies from Major League Baseball.

In the closest contest on the ballot, Molina leads, 3.597 million votes to Posey’s 3.506 million. Voting for this year’s starters at the All-Star Game at New York’s Citi Field continues online at MLB.com until July 4. Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran continues to lead all of the outfielders with 3.473 million votes. The top three vote-getters in the outfield start. Matt Carpenter is the next-closest Cardinal to a starting role, trailing Brandon Phillips at second base by less than 350,000 votes.

The Cardinals have had a starter elected to the National League’s lineup for four consecutive All-Star games, the longest active streak in the league.

ROYALS GRAB CLETO

The Kansas City Royals snatched righty Maikel Cleto off outright waivers Sunday after the Cardinals placed their Class AAA reliever there last week. Cleto was 2-3 with a 6.92 ERA in 16 games (nine starts) for Triple-A Memphis, and he struggled in one appearance with the major-league team. Mozeliak said Cleto’s fluctuating performance and role “had become a mutual sense of frustration. I think it’s good for him to have a little bit of a change of scenery.”

The move frees up a spot on the Cards’ 40-man roster and clears way for Tyler Lyons to join the six-man rotation in Memphis. The Cardinals acquired Cleto from Seattle in December 2010 for shortstop Brendan Ryan. In 13 appearances over three seasons, Cleto had a 10.34 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 152/3 innings.

WIGGY WITH IT

Signed to be a righthanded presence off the bench, Cardinals veteran Ty Wigginton has struggled in that role but become valuable in another one, Matheny described Sunday.

Wigginton has hit .176 in limited action this season, and as a pinch-hitter he entered Sunday’s game five-for-29 (.172) with 11 strikeouts. Within the clubhouse he has taken on a mentor role with rookie Matt Adams and performed unofficial duties as a de facto coach for hitting coach John Mabry.

“He’s invested,” Matheny said. “He and John Mabry have put a tag-team approach on the young guys. John will give Ty an assignment for the day — who he needs to kick in the butt or pat on the back. And John works the other direction. He’s been really good for a guy who has been an everyday player. I know it was a tough transition when you’re not used to that once-every-never at-bat.”

TAVERAS, ETC.

Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras doubled and drove in three runs Sunday for Class AAA Memphis, but had to leave the game after the third inning because of soreness in his ankle. Taveras was out for a month recently because of a high ankle sprain. … Beltran is listed by MLB as one of the 10 candidates to participate in the Home Run Derby. The Cardinals right fielder, who participated in the derby last summer at Kansas City, said he’s not certain whether he’d accept an invitation if offered. … The Houston Astros adjusted their rotation for the two-game series against the Cards and will now start righty Lucas Harrell on Tuesday and lefty Erik Bedard on Wednesday. The Cardinals are 8-10 in games when opponents start a lefty.

 

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