Healthy competition makes Cards’ rotation stronger

ST. LOUIS — Early Saturday morning, Adam Wainwright met with his catcher, Yadier Molina, and his pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist, to discuss his upcoming start against the Colorado Rockies.

“All right, I’m just going to throw 95 mile-per-hour fastballs all day,” the St. Louis Cardinals ace said in jest.

It was just another Shelby Miller reference.

Fewer than 24 hours had passed since the 22-year-old Miller torched the hard-hitting Rockies with his heat. Fastball after fastball, followed by an occasional curve, the Cardinals’ fifth starter built his fifth win, which also happened to be the best game of his life.

A broken-bat single by Colorado leadoff man Eric Young Jr. to start the game was all the Rockies mustered against Miller. The next 27 never touched first base. Miller’s final 95 mile-per-hour fastball locked in his 13th strikeout and cemented a 3-0 victory. He stepped off the mound to a standing ovation, a stirring response from a Busch Stadium crowd that knew the performance would live on in Cardinals’ lore.

And here was Wainwright, the Cards’ top arm, bluffing the next morning about how he would follow Miller’s fastball-fueled dance with perfection with one of his own. Turns out, the only thing he was joking about was the kind of pitches he would use.

“It’s funny,” Cadinals manager Mike Matheny would later tell reporters. “You guys were asking yesterday, ‘It [Miller’s one-hitter] is a tough act for Adam to follow. What is he going to do?’ And he just about did it.”

Wainwright hinged Saturday’s start on his devastating curve, then mixed in his variety of pitches from there. But the end result was nearly the same: a whole lot of Colorado batters whiffing and missing and sending baseballs into gloves for outs.

He struck out seven, walked one and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. The span of hitless Rockies reached 50 before Colorado’s Nolan Arenado singled to center. Wainwright surrendered another single before finishing the 3-0 win, also his fifth of the year. He too left the mound to a standing ovation that made chills ripple up his spine.

“Once you see Shelby mow through a lineup like he has been the whole year, you’ve got to go out and do that, too,” Wainwright said. “You don’t want guys to think that there is a new sheriff in town.”

If you haven’t heard by now, the starting rotation in St. Louis is, to this point, the best in the land. Sandwiched between Wainwright (5-2, 2.30 ERA) and Miller (5-2, 1.58 ERA) are Lance Lynn (5-1, 2.72 ERA), Jaime Garcia (4-1, 2.25 ERA) and Jake Westbrook (2-1, 1.62 ERA). And the scary part? This group appears to be getting stronger as it feeds off its own success.

“I love that competition we have internally, that healthy competition that these guys keep pushing each other to be better,” Matheny said.

Thirty-five games into the season, the Cardinals’ starting rotation boasts a 21-5 record and a league-best 2.11 ERA — more than one run better than the second-best team, Detroit (3.27). Cards starters have surrendered more than three earned runs just four times this season, and they’ve only given away a stingy 10 home runs.

“We like being around each other,” Wainwright said. “All five of us. We have a great group of guys, and there is some talent there in those five guys, too. The thing I love about our staff is there is nobody in here not working their tail off in between starts. Everybody is doing everything they can to be ready for their next start.”

For Miller, it’s chasing the veterans. For Wainwright and the veterans, it’s trying to keep up with the kid. Everyone benefits as a result.

“Each time out, we expect something special to happen,” Wainwright said. “I think that’s part of being very good, expecting to be very good when you go out there and pitch. All five of our guys expect to be very good when they take the mound.”

Wainwright was very good Saturday, not even a full day after Miller was just slightly better.

In the clubhouse, after the game, reporters formed a mob around the ace’s locker.

A few feet away, Miller commented on Wainwright stealing the show.

“He made it look easy, too, huh,” Miller said. “We’ve got a good rotation here.”

You can follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred) and contact him at