Veteran St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright remains confident in his ability to still be effective on the mound for the Cardinals.
“I want to win. There’s still a big part of me that thinks that I’m going to win a Cy Young,” Wainwright said. “So, I mean, even if that’s pitching in middle relief, I’d be the first one to ever do that.”
The 37-year-old Wainwright made just eight starts in an injury-plagued 2018 campaign. In those starts, Wainwright allowed 12 earned runs on 22 hits in 22 1-3 innings. More importantly, he walked just four while striking out 25. In his rehab outing before returning in September, Wainwright pitched 17 scoreless innings.
His best outing was a two-hit, six-inning scoreless outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his next-to-last start. The positive performance earned him a 15th season with the Cardinals. Among Cardinals, just Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines have had longer tenures as pitchers with the team.
Last October, Wainwright inked a one-year contract worth $2 million plus bonus incentives. That deal followed a five-year, $97.5 million contract that expired.
“The way he pitched in that rehab assignment and the way he pitched in September is what established the fact that he can still pitch in the big leagues,” said Michael Girsch, Cardinals general manager. “It became obvious that he wanted to come back. He had convinced himself that he could do it.”
Wainwright finished the season 2-4 with a 4.46 ERA in 40 1/3 innings. He has 148 wins in his 14 seasons. Wainwright is two wins shy of becoming the fifth Cardinal pitcher, and first since Bob Forsch, who has 163 career victories, to win 150 games.
Wainwright was the runner-up for the Cy Young Award in 2010 and 2013. He finished third twice. He has been a complete player in his tenure with his defense and hitting. He won Gold Glove awards in 2009 and 2013. In 2017, he captured the Silver Slugger Award as the best hitting pitcher in the National League.
But since 2015, Wainwright has battled various ailments. He has been limited to 68 starts since 2015.
Wainwright injured his hamstring coming out of spring training in 2018. He started the season on the disabled list. He came back and made three starts. Then, he returned to the 60-day DL with a sore right elbow.
“You know, if I’m being honest, last year or even the year before, just the way my arm was feeling, I might have said I’m going to out and win 25 games or whatever but deep down I wasn’t mentally there,” Wainwright said. “It’s one thing to say it but it’s a whole another thing to believe it.”
This spring, Wainwright reports he is healthy.
“It’s been unlike any offseason for me since the 2014 offseason,” Wainwright said. “Nothing to repair. No stitches to get out. No other surgeries to have. It’s been fun for me actually. I was able to train completely normal again. I can throw completely normal. I already long-tossed back to 210 feet. I haven’t done that since even I don’t know when. I’m feeling good about it.”
John Mozeliak, the Cardinals president of baseball operations, is optimistic about Wainwright.
“Adam has proven, when healthy, that he still has the ability and the drive to contribute at the highest level,” Mozeliak said. “We saw it in spring training, and again late in the season, that once he had overcome his ailments, he was prepared to give us a winning effort every time he took the mound.”
Wainwright would like to be a starter this season. However, he has not ruled out a return to the bullpen, where he began his career.
For starters, the Cardinals have former All-Stars Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez to lead the rotation. Jack Flaherty also pitched well last season as a rookie to earn a spot in the rotation.
That leaves one opening for a starter. Besides Wainwright, other contenders are Austin Gomber and John Gant, who both had starts last season. Alex Reyes also is healthy this spring. The hard-throwing right-hander has logged only four major league innings over the last two seasons due to lat and elbow injuries; however, St. Louis remains high on Reyes’ ability.
“I’m trying not to think of anything that I can’t control,” Wainwright said. “And what I can control is coming in and getting outs. I’m pretty confident in that.”
Wainwright knows this could be his last season in the majors.
“I’m going to treat every year from here like it’s my last and go year-to-year,” Wainwright said. “I’m going to have a great time and maybe a year from now we’re having the same conversation or we’re having a retirement conversation.”