His stats rock, but get this: Waino is getting by with a lot of so-so stuff

Adam Wainwright is making a strong case to earn his first All-Star Game start, but what's amazing is he's doing it without having his best stuff more often than you'd think. He just keeps finding ways to get outs.

Wainwright called his stuff 'subpar to average' and still pitched seven scoreless innings against the Rays on Tuesday night.

Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- What is most remarkable about Adam Wainwright's first half is not that he has pitched at least seven shutout innings in half of his 14 starts.

Nor is it that on Tuesday night he became the first NL pitcher to win nine games and the first in the majors to pass 100 innings, making him a leading contender to start the All-Star Game for the first time.

Nor is it his 2.15 ERA or 0.93 WHIP, or that he already has two streaks of 20-plus scoreless innings. Or that if you throw out his two clunker starts, his ERA would be 1.09.

After all, Wainwright's numbers were about the same through 14 starts last year: 10-3 and 2.18 ERA with a superior strikeout-to-walk ratio, 10.8 to 1 last year, 4.3 to 1 this year.

What is most impressive about Wainwright's 2014 is that he has done all this without having what he considers his "A" stuff for more than a handful of starts.

In the Cardinals' 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, Wainwright called his stuff "subpar to average" and all he did was pitch seven scoreless innings and lead the Cardinals to their third consecutive shutout victory.

His postgame breakdown: "My two-seamer was OK, my cutter was OK and my curveball was not very good. My fastball didn't have much jump to it. Command was not as good as it has been, but it wasn't terrible. That's the way it goes sometimes. You just have to find ways to get outs."

The 32-year-old right-hander was so unimpressed with what he was throwing that he agreed with manager Mike Matheny's decision to lift him, which doesn't happen on a regular basis.

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Asked if his ace was strained after throwing 92 pitches, Matheny said: "I would say that. But whenever I say that, he gets all offended, so make sure you share that with him."

Said Wainwright: "He was right in recognizing the stuff I had, and the bullpen he had out there was fresh."

His performance didn't come against the Bronx Bombers or anything. The Rays, who own the worst record in the majors, were shut out for a third straight game and have fallen to the bottom of the AL with a 3.58 runs-per-game average. But Wainwright intended no disrespect for pooh-poohing his stuff while still being able to shut down the Rays. He said that pitching without his top-of-the-line stuff is not unusual, especially this season.

Wainwright said he has been dealing with some kind of head cold -- possibly because of allergies -- for the past month. That's not all he's pitched with, either.

"Early in the year, I had a little sore back that I pitched through a couple of times," he said. "I had the flu one time. I had some tendinitis one time. It's 34-35 starts (a season) and (in) five of them, you don't have something going on."

When you can call on as many pitches as Wainwright and can throw them all pretty much where you want, they don't have to be at their crispest. Besides his signature curve, he can go to a cutter, sinker, two-seam fastball and four-seamer that has touched 95 mph this season. He also has learned to alter his delivery as well as the speed and break of his pitches. And he continues to break out different pitches.

"I threw some sliders," he said after Tuesday's victory. "I did that last game, too, on right-handers a few times and left-handers. I'm having fun varying speeds on the different pitches and the breaks on them. It helps because if you don't have great stuff, you can do some different things with it and find ways to get outs."

And the more outs he gets, the more confidence he takes to the mound. Wainwright struck out only two Rays and allowed multiple baserunners in four innings. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth when the Rays' eight-hole hitter, Logan Forsythe, hit a line drive right at second baseman Kolten Wong. He allowed three of the first four Rays to reach but was spared when Allen Craig started a flawless 3-6-1 double play. Yet Wainwright was not about to say he got more than his share of breaks.

"I wouldn't say it was fortunate," Wainwright said of the scoreless effort. "There were some runners out there but (James) Loney had two hits that both of them were a combined 37 hops. Some other guys hit balls on the screws right to people. It's a funny game. You just have to time those 37-hoppers when nobody is on base."

He has shown the ability to do that, and a whole lot more.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.