Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mortality is staring St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in the face. Can the team really count on him anymore?
This will be the season we’ll find out. Wainwright, of course, is coming off a disastrous 2015. Just as he was settling in, he injured his achilles tendon after stumbling out of the batter’s box in an April 25 game at Milwaukee. The timing couldn’t have been worse, he told the AP and ESPN after it happened:
"“It was by far the best I felt this year. I really had things working. I started changing arm angles a little bit, working in and out better than I have been and I just was having a lot of fun out there. It reminded me of last year a lot.“Those strides I was talking about making over the course of the year, I started to make them today. That’s the hardest part just knowing I was making such good adjustments, and now I’ve got a setback.”"
When a guy of Wainwright’s caliber says he’s hitting his stride, that’s really saying something. This is a guy who missed 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery andreturned to anchor the St. Louis Cardinals and pace the National League in shutouts (13) and complete games (7) from 2012 until last year’s injury.
Wainwright’s track record supports the notion that he’ll bounce back with relative ease in 2016. Not only has he done that sort of thing before, but he’s now older and wiser and understands his body more. Given his comment about changing arm angles, Wainwright has reached the point in his career where he’s smart and talented enough to find ways to get outs without maxing out his arm.
On the other hand, it may be too late. Wainwright’s arm already has a lot of mileage on it. He led all of baseball with 241.2 innings pitched and 956 batters faced in 2013. He nearly matched that feat back in 2009, when he led the National League with 233 innings of work. Heading into this season, the 34-year-old right-hander has already pitched 1569.2 innings. He’s not just good. He’s a workhorse.
Wainwright will need to be one again for the St. Louis Cardinals to have any prayer of contending this year. But his two primary pitches, his sinker and curveball, are as sharp as ever. Here’s betting on another strong return in 2016.