Michael Wacha, out since June 17 with a stress reaction in his right shoulder, has been given clearance by the Cardinals’ medical staff to begin a throwing program today.

General manager John Mozeliak wouldn’t speculate on how long it would be before the righthander could pitch again, but he said he asked the question of the club’s medical staff, “Are you optimistic that he will pitch this year in the major leagues? They said, ‘Yes.’

"At the end of the day, it’s whether you do or you don’t,” said Mozeliak. “But ‘optimism’ is a fair word right now.”

Mozeliak said Wacha, who had an MRI on Monday, would be re-evaluated again in two weeks to ascertain how his shoulder has reacted to the stress of the throwing program. But Mozeliak said, “It’s shown a lot of healing. The inflammation appears to be down in that area. Now, he’s ready for that next step.”

Wacha is 5-5 with a 2.71 earned run average in 15 starts.

BENCH HELP NEEDED?

As the Cardinals play the final one-third of their schedule, two trouble areas are in need of a tuneup.

First is their lack of power off the bench. Cardinals pinch hitters have a not-very-gaudy .221 average but, more to the point, they have had just seven extra-base hits in 131 pinch at-bats.

Peter Bourjos has a double and a triple. Daniel Descalso has three doubles. Nobody has a home run.