St Louis Cardinals

Dominant Adam Wainwright Showing Elbow Scare Was Just a Bump in the Road

AP Images
Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJune 27, 2014

The St. Louis Cardinals have reasons to worry about a number of their pitchers these days, which is all sorts of bad news.

But there's good news, too: In his last two trips to the hill, Adam Wainwright has made it clear there's nothing to worry about on his end. 

On Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, Wainwright made his second start since being sidelined for 10 days with right elbow soreness earlier this month. He ultimately found himself on the short end of a 1-0 Los Angeles Dodgers victory, but that had more to do with Josh Beckett's seven scoreless innings than Wainwright's own pitching.

The veteran right-hander fired eight innings of one-run ball, giving up five hits and a walk while striking out seven. It looked for a time like Wainwright was going to do a lot better than that, as it took a leadoff single by Miguel Rojas in the sixth inning to break up his run at a no-hitter. 

Put everything together, and Wainwright's second start back since his injury hiatus looked a lot like his first start back:

Adam Wainwright's Post-Injury Starts
DateOppIPHRERBBKPitches
6/21/14PHI8.061107104
6/27/14at LAD8.051117100
ESPN.com

That kind of efficient dominance has been the norm for Wainwright for a while now, and this latest effort makes 18 starts of at least eight innings since 2013. That's more than anybody else in baseball.

Wainwright has helped his ERA in the process. It was 2.15 when his elbow started barking. It's now 2.01, second-best behind only Johnny Cueto among qualified National League pitchers.

There's the gospel of the results for you. After a brief bump in the road, Adam Wainwright is Adam Wainwright again.

And no, it's not just the results that say so.

Jun 26, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA;  St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) in the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

If there's one gripe you can raise about Wainwright's last two starts, it's that he hasn't quite been the strike-throwing machine that he was before. Only 66 percent of his pitches have been strikes, whereas 67 percent of his pitches were going for strikes before.

Dude's slacking, man. I guess that makes it a good thing he's had some good stuff.

He's certainly had good velocity. Straight from Brooks Baseball, here's the relevant data:

Adam Wainwright's Velocity on Hard Pitches
SplitFour-Seam VeloSinker VeloCutter Velo
First 14 GS91.390.987.1
6/21/201492.190.787.8
6/27/201492.092.488.5
Brooks Baseball

It's not a clean sweep, but Wainwright has generally been throwing harder since his return from injury than he was before. That's a pretty good sign that his elbow is not only feeling good, but that he's comfortable enough to push it.

Even more encouraging is that Wainwright hasn't been shying away from his trademark curveball either. In his first 14 starts, he threw his curveball 25.3 percent of the time. In his first start back, his hook accounted for 26 of his 104 pitches. Against the Dodgers, it accounted for 27 of his 100 pitches.

That's 53 of 204, or 26.0 percent. Rather than go down a tick, Wainwright's curveball usage has gone up a tick.

And Uncle Charles is still as snappy as he's ever been, thank you very much. Maybe even snappier.

Whereas 16.9 percent of Wainwright's curves drew whiffs in his first 14 starts, 30.2 percent (16 of 53) of his curves have gotten whiffs since his return. And since said curve looked especially good in picking up the bulk of those whiffs (10) Thursday night, I have to agree with CBSSports.com's Matt Snyder:

This would be how Wainwright has gotten his Wainwright-like results his last two times out. He's been able to throw strikes, he's had good life on his fastball, and his money-making curve is in top form.

All of this is worthy of a bigger sigh of relief than you might think. The elbow injury Wainwright came down with didn't sideline him for long, but it was concerning all the same.

This is a guy who already had Tommy John surgery in 2011, after all. And though his injury was described as being similar to "tennis elbow," he didn't make it out to be any kind of minor inconvenience. He was in real pain.

"The game in Tampa Bay [on June 10], even though I had decent results, that didn't feel good at all," Wainwright told MLB.com's Alex M. Smith. "It hurt. We got all that calmed down."

Given the pain Wainwright was dealing with and the impressive fashion in which he's bounced back from it, you do get the sense that the Cardinals have dodged a bullet.

And it's a good thing they have.

The Cardinals began the season with a strong starting rotation, but sophomore right-hander Michael Wacha and oft-injured left-hander Jaime Garcia were placed on the disabled list a few days back. Right-hander Joe Kelly was already there waiting for them, and fellow right-hander Shelby Miller only lasted a couple innings in his most recent start before his back acted up on him.

With so many injuries all of a sudden, these are tough times for St. Louis' starting rotation. If the Cardinals didn't have Wainwright healthy and firing on all cylinders, their pursuit of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers would be very much in danger of hitting a serious snag.

But the Cardinals do have a healthy Wainwright, and he is firing on all cylinders. That means that every fifth day is going to be a good day.

And as long as that's the case, they'll be sticking around.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked. 

 

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