It’s hard to beat Father Time but St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright feels he can keep him away from the clubhouse for some time.
“I still feel pretty young,” Wainwright, 34, said.
Yet, he’s one of the Cardinals’ older players along with Matt Holliday, 36, Yadier Molina, 34, Jhonny Peralta, 33, and Brandon Moss, 32.
“Body-wise, I feel better than I did a few years ago. I’m not looking at the end yet,” he said. “People used to play until they were 40 all the time – maybe not all the time, but sometimes. It’s more rare nowadays. But I’m not looking to be retiring in the next year or two.”
The Cardinals are relying heavily on Wainwright in 2016. Starter Lance Lynn is out for the season after elbow ligament replacement surgery. John Lackey bolted via free agency to sign with the Chicago Cubs. Also in the offseason, St. Louis lost a bidding war with Boston for David Price.
The St. Louis staff led the NL with a 2.94 ERA and posted 106 quality starts last season. Wainwright is being counted on to help keep up those numbers – but he has to stay healthy. The two-time 20-game winner missed most of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Still, Wainwright said he has plenty more to offer despite age and injuries. “Nobody likes being called old, right?” he said. “But I think [critics are] right, for the most part. We are aging, [but] we’re just becoming more wise. We’re learning our bodies better and learning how to do things better.
“Somebody has to get old. And if we’re still playing and older, it means we still have some ability. I think the more people talk about that, the more we laugh because we just know Matt Holliday is still going to hit well. We know that Yadier is still going to catch well. And hopefully we know I’m going to pitch well.”
Second baseman Kolten Wong said people can count on Wainwright being on top of his game.
“I’m seeing things people are saying about Adam getting old,” Wong said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, you don’t realize how hard this guy works.’ After he got hurt, he was in the training room from 10 o’clock until game time, just trying to get back.
“He got back toward the end of the season when everyone basically counted him out. So I’m excited for this year…to have our captain out there and our Opening Day starter.”
Wainwright’s goal last season was to pitch before the campaign ended. He accomplished it, returning as a reliever toward the end of the season.
This spring, he has resumed his role as the Cardinals’ unquestioned leader among pitchers.
“I do believe we have the potential to be the very best rotation in baseball,” Wainwright aid. “Now we just have to go out and play and make that happen.”
Wainwright said missing so much time last season has done wonders for his arm.
“You hate to say missing time helped you because you want to be out there helping the team,” he said. “But honestly, my arm greatly benefited last year from having that time to rest. I came back as fast as I could from Tommy John [surgery], and I pitched a couple of seasons. I came back as fast as I could from my little elbow cleanup on the backside where they took some cartilage shavings out of there.
“I had a chance to just let everything heal last year. When I went into the postseason, although I had a banged-up Achilles a little bit, the rest of my body felt amazing. Body-wise, I couldn’t feel better than I do right now.”
Wainwright understands why the Cubs are the favorites in the NL Central, but he says it’s wrong to hand them the top spot.
“The Cubs beat us in the postseason last year, so they earned that right,” Wainwright said. “It’s not something where we go home and we write on the wall and look at it every day as motivation. But we certainly relish the opportunity to go out every day and prove everybody wrong.
“We have some great talent in our organization. We have some great talent in our division…It’s going to be a battle all year long. I don’t think anybody out there is writing that we’re going to get blown away by the Cubs or the Pirates or anybody else.”