ST. LOUIS — You can breathe now, Cardinals fans. Adam Wainwright is just fine.
All eyes were focused on the ace right-hander Saturday in his first start after skipping a turn in the rotation because of elbow tendinitis. What they saw against the Phillies was vintage Wainwright.
He allowed one run and scattered six hits over eight impressive innings, with seven strikeouts and no walks, and the Cardinals used a three-run eighth inning to secure a 4-1 victory at Busch Stadium.
"I never felt it all game," Wainwright said of the elbow pain that sidelined him briefly. "I told the training staff the only time I even felt anything in my arm at all was my first swing. (Cole) Hamels jammed me and I grounded to third. But my arm felt very good pitching. That’s why we took the last start off. That was the right decision."
Wainwright said he wasn’t concerned going into Saturday’s start, but wasn’t completely sure what to expect.
"You just never know sometimes how you’re going to respond when you haven’t thrown very much," he said. "You might be a little off with your command. I put some good time in the last few days to make sure I was getting back to normal. I threw a normal side and a normal flat-ground the day before. I was a little wayward early on (with) my fastball command. It got better as the game wore on."
On a day when the Cardinals (40-35) shook up the lineup a little bit — Allen Craig moved to the No. 2 spot and Yadier Molina hit fourth for the first time this season — but still produced only five hits, they needed their ace to deliver another strong outing.
And he delivered.
Of course, he did.
"Unbelievable," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "This guy has just been so good. Taking a little break and coming back as sharp as he is, I don’t know why I’m surprised, but to be as sharp as he is with a little time off, he looked like the Adam we’ve watched all season."
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Wainwright, who improved to 10-3 and lowered his ERA from 2.15 to 2.08, gave the Cardinals exactly what they needed after their five-game win streak was followed by a three-game losing skid.
"He gave us a great start," Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said, "gave us a chance to get that win and have a chance to split the series tomorrow and end the homestand on a high note."
— Getting to Hamels — finally. Holliday came through with the biggest hit of the day with his go-ahead RBI double in the eighth inning off Hamels.
"He pitched a really, really difficult game," Holliday said of Hamels. "He and Waino both made really good pitches. Matt (Carpenter) got on base with a walk. At that point in the game you’re really looking at having a chance to win if you can just scratch one run. I got into a 3-2 count which, with him, doesn’t guarantee you anything. He threw a changeup. Luckily, he left it up a little bit and I was able to hit it in the gap and score the run and we were able to tack on two insurance runs, which always helps."
Holliday then scored the Cards’ third run on a Jhonny Peralta ground ball to shortstop with one out in the eighth. It was an aggressive play and he would have likely been called out, but Carlos Ruiz couldn’t hang on to the ball after Holliday slid into him.
— Matt Adams. Adams was the Sultan of Sac on Saturday. Officially, the first baseman was hitless in his one at-bat with a pop-up to second base. But Big City came through with two sacrifice flies — against lefties Hamels and reliever Jake Dieckman — to plate two of the Redbirds’ four runs. The last Cardinals player to have two sac flies in a game without recording a hit was Matheny in 2002.
— Hanging in there. Carpenter had a rough day at the plate with a strikeout, groundout and flyout in his first three at-bats, but he coaxed a tough full-count walk against Hamels to lead off the eighth inning. He then scored from first on Holliday’s RBI double to the left-center gap.
— Peter Bourjos. With one out and a 1-0 lead and Peralta leading off third base in the second inning, Bourjos attempted a safety squeeze bunt, but it didn’t work out so well. Bourjos bunted the ball right back to Hamels, who held Peralta at third and threw to first for the easy second out of the frame. The next batter, Mark Ellis, worked a full count before striking out looking to end the threat and allow Hamels to escape with just one run across. In the fourth, with runners at first and second, Bourjos struck out looking to end the inning.
— Kolten Wong. Matheny announced in his postgame press conference that the second baseman would go on the disabled list with his ailing shoulder — "It continues to bother him from that time when he dove," Matheny said — and outfielder Shane Robinson would be called up from Triple-A Memphis. Robinson is batting .323 in 34 games with Memphis and is coming off a three-hit, four-run game Friday.
— Cardinals second basemen. With Wong (.228) going on the disabled list, Ellis (.189) and Daniel Descalso (.179) are St. Louis’ top options at second. Wong has made 40 starts at second base this season, while Ellis (29) and Descalso (four) have combined for 33. It might have been worthwhile to recall Greg Garcia from Triple A. He’s hitting .242 in 55 games in Memphis but is batting .282 (11 for 39) with a .383 OBP over his past 10 games with the Redbirds.
Matheny was asked in his postgame press conference why the club recalled an outfielder instead of an infielder.
"Realizing that Danny is a pretty versatile guy on the bench gives us a little more flexibility," he said. "And Mark in the same way. Mark can play any of the positions on the infield. It’s an advantage to have two guys like that. And then bringing in Shane to have the right-handed bat off the bench and a little bit of speed and defense in the outfield if we need it."