ST. LOUIS — So, Adam Wainwright, you think tipping pitches was your problem against the Reds?
Wainwright, with big grin: “You never can tell about those things.”
Does that mean yes?
Still grinning: “I may have seen something.”
“I may have.”
Well, maybe he is hoping that tipping pitches was the problem. That at least would provide a plausible explanation for the worst back-to-back starts of his career. Immediately after the second clunker, Wainwright admitted to reporters that “it’s a head-scratcher.”
By Friday afternoon, Wainwright said he had figured out something that might have led to allowing 15 runs in his past eight innings.
“I have a lot of ideas about what was happening,” he said.
Sorry, he’s not about to share them with the media. That would serve little purpose so soon to taking the mound against the Pirates in an NL Central showdown Saturday night.
No doubt, though, something wasn’t right against the Reds. After giving up a career-high nine runs while lasting just two innings in a 10-0 loss to the Reds at home, Wainwright was beaten five days later in Cincinnati when the Reds touched him for six runs in the first four innings of a 7-2 loss.
If manager Mike Matheny knows why his No. 1 starter has been struggling, he’s not offering a reason for public consumption, either.
“We watch everything. We break down things,” Matheny said before Friday night’s game between the Cardinals and Pirates. “You have to be careful trying to break down too much mechanically this time of the year. We do watch and try to pick up things. We’ve talked to you before about tipping and anything that may be giving (opposing hitters) an edge.”
OK. Sounds like tipping pitches is the clubhouse leader for possible explanations. One factor that Wainwright ruled out is health. “I’m perfectly fine,” he said.
His fastball velocity backs up that sentiment. Wainwright reached 93 with his four-seamer Monday night, which is about his norm for the season. He threw his cutter at 90-91 mph, which also is right at his season average.
His command has been lacking, though, which could be partly a result of throwing 206 2/3 innings this season. Scouts say that even when velocity doesn’t dip, a tired arm can result in a flatter finish to a pitcher’s pitches. “You don’t get the same arm extension so you don’t get the same finish on your pitches,” one said.
Wainwright has walked 14 in 60 innings since the All-Star break after walking only 15 in 146 2/3 innings prior.
He can take a little comfort in knowing his next opponent has not caused him great harm this season. Wainwright has worked seven innings in both of his starts against Pittsburgh, allowing four runs in one and three in the other.
Before the rough outings against the Reds, Wainwright turned in one of his best outings of the season, a complete-game 3-1 victory over the Braves during which he struck out 11 and walked none. He also threw a season-high 128 pitches, giving the backseat analysts another reason to consider for his struggles. Both Matheny and Wainwright, not surprisingly, scoff as such a notion.
Whatever has been his problem, the Cardinals do not seem too worried.
“You expect your ace, a guy who has been around the league a long time, to have everything figured out,” Matheny said. “But you’re going to constantly have to adjust. Some little habit might have jumped in or some minor mechanical flaw.”
Maybe the Cardinals aren’t expressing concern over two bad starts because they have more pressing issues. Wainwright’s struggles, in fact, don’t even crack the top five of Cardinals’ concerns. The loss of Allen Craig to a foot injury, the struggles of Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn, the lack of production at shortstop and the health of Yadier Molina all are more disconcerting.
Wainwright also has experience on his side. Though he’s never endured such back-to-back clunkers, he has overcome his share of adversity. The Cardinals are confident he will again, perhaps as soon as Saturday.
“I know he’s ready to get back out there,” Matheny said. “He feels good and wants to be the guy that leads this staff.”
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.