Wainwright feeling fine as innings pile up

ST. LOUIS – Adam Wainwright has a message for those worried about his increasing innings count and his rough last two starts: relax.
The right-hander was roughed up for a second consecutive outing Wednesday, giving up five runs on eight hits in five innings in a 6-2 loss to the New York Mets.  But his struggles apparently have nothing to do with his high workload in his first year since missing all of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery.
“Somebody asked me a minute ago if I’m starting to get tired and I said relax,” Wainwright said. “I just came off a month where I was 5-1. I’ve had a mechanical issue my last two games and I’ll work it out for the next game. Physically I feel very good.”
While all of the talk has been about Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and the 180-inning limit that will end his season after another start or two, the Cardinals find themselves in an equally precarious situation with Wainwright. The right-hander made his 28th start of the season and surpassed the 170-inning plateau by the end of the second inning Wednesday.
Most teams try to limit pitchers in their first season back after the famed Tommy John surgery but Wainwright has been against any kind of limitations from the beginning.  Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said in January that the club wanted to try and keep the right-hander somewhere around 150 innings.
But the club softened any kind of official limit on Wainwright as the season progressed and said they would just watch the right-hander to see if they noticed any kind of changes. Asked about passing 170 innings, Wainwright didn’t seem phased.
“To me 170 innings is nothing,” Wainwright said. “What’s 170 innings? I threw 60 more than that two times. 170 innings, I’m not even winded at all. It should be more than that.
“My arm is not even getting sore and that’s the truth. I haven’t had a sore shoulder or elbow all year. Not one time since about two months into the season.”
Wainwright, who turned 31 last week, allowed a bases loaded walk and served up a three-run blast to Ike Davis as part of a rare five-inning start Wednesday. It was the second straight rough outing for the right-hander, who has allowed 17 hits, 11 earned runs and five walks in a total of just 7 2/3 innings over his last two starts.
But Wainwright and manager Mike Matheny both chalk up the poor results his last two starts to fastball command stemming from an inconsistent arm slot. It’s a mechanical issue he dealt with earlier in the year and said has crept back up recently.
Asked if he thought his ace was fatigued, Matheny said, “No I don’t, only because of how strong he feels right now. Fatigue is kind of a tough issue because everybody is somewhat fatigued, but he feels good right now and its just finding that feel for the consistent fastball. You go through those periods during the season.”
Wainwright suffered some growing pains early in the season. He went 4-6 with a 4.98 ERA in his first 11 starts and had an uncharacteristically high 4.78 ERA when the calendar turned to July.
But just like he promised they would, things got better. He went 6-1 with a 1.80 ERA in seven starts from July 24 to August 26 and looked like the ace that won 20 games in 2010. He lowered his ERA for the season to a respectable 3.63 and was seemingly getting stronger with each start.
But then came one of his worst starts of the season on August 31 in Washington when he allowed six earned runs and nine hits in just 2 2/3 innings. He followed it up with another poor outing Wednesday.
The Cardinals believe the past two starts had nothing to do with the mounting innings on Wainwright’s right arm. They’ve continued to monitor him closely and have noticed nothing different than his previous successful starts in the past.
“Just watch him and see, I mean that’s it,” Matheny said. “We listen to how he’s feeling. We watch. … The velocity is still there. This is a tough game to execute at times and you go through those ruts and right now its one of those spots where he’s not pitching like he normally does but a couple starts ago he was very impressive and you don’t lose it that quickly. It’s just one of those things he’s going to have to work through.
“He looks fine to me. Once again, he’s gone through some peaks and valleys this season and I think that is to be expected after surgery.”
Told it was easy for outsiders to look at his heavy workload this year and make the assumption that his last two starts were poor because he’s getting tired, Wainwright said, “I understand that, but it’s not related.
“I think I’m in a different situation. I’m an older guy, my body is physically in shape to pitch a long season and in my mind I have a new elbow to do it with. I wouldn’t say there’s any reason at all to start talking about that at all. I had a bad start.”
Wainwright is scheduled to make his next start Tuesday in San Diego. He should have five starts remaining, meaning he probably will pass the 200 innings mark for the fourth time in his five years as a starting pitcher.
But this one comes with more attention, especially as the Cardinals continue to make a push towards the playoffs.