Wainwright poised to get back to being a dominant postseason pitcher
SAN FRANCISCO — Adam Wainwright is determined to forget about his frustrating October outings and get back to the dominant postseason pitcher he used to be.
The Cardinals ace is confident he made some key adjustments in a bullpen session Monday and will return to form when he starts Thursday night’s Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against the Giants.
It remains unclear whether Yadier Molina will be able to catch him. A.J. Pierzynski was set to start for a second straight game Wednesday in place of Molina, who strained his left oblique during Sunday’s Game 2.
"He tried taking a few swings and it didn’t feel real great, as expected," manager Mike Matheny said before Wednesday’s game. "Still continuing to feel good as he goes out and plays catch and throwing, receiving. Doing the things he needs to behind the plate are all fine."
Wainwright said he and the pitching staff have plenty of confidence in Pierzynski, who chatted up several teammates in a circle near near home plate before batting practice.
For now, Wainwright is encouraged by his own progress.
"The positives to take away were when your arm doesn’t feel the best, you need everything else to be locked in and your delivery to be sharp," Wainwright said. "My delivery was not sharp. My arm didn’t feel great the last few times out. Now my arm feels better and my delivery should be much sharper going forward, so it should be a much more polished pitcher you see on the mound."
The right-hander has failed to make it out of the fifth inning in each of his two postseason starts, raising speculation about his health and prompting general manager John Mozeliak to acknowledge Wainwright might be tired after pitching 227 innings following a career-high 241 2/3 a year ago in 2013.
The 33-year-old Wainwright went 20-9 with a 2.38 ERA in 32 starts for the second 20-win season in his nine-year major league career. He has pitched 512 2/3 innings including postseason the past two years.
Wainwright was unbeaten in the postseason until Game 3 of last year’s NLCS, when he lost at Dodger Stadium. Wainwright took two more defeats in the World Series against Boston and then a 3-0 loss in Game 1 of this NLCS at Busch Stadium. He pitched on seven days’ rest his last time out and will be on regular rest Thursday.
This postseason, Wainwright has allowed eight earned runs and 17 hits, but has said mechanics are the problem and not an ongoing elbow issue.
"I’m not tired at all," Wainwright said. "I’ve battled some things this year injury-wise that I have not battled those other years. If my body would have felt as good as it did last year with the stuff I was featuring this year, man, would have been fun. But more than anything, what I want to get back into is throwing quality games in the postseason. Until last year’s NLCS, I was undefeated in the postseason. I just don’t want to get a bad rap for not being a good playoff pitcher. That’s the time I want to shine the most."
Matheny has spoken about Wainwright’s example to the young St. Louis pitchers, such as showing up at spring training with two new pitches this year after finishing runner-up to Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw for the 2013 NL Cy Young Award.
Making adjustments between starts is just one of those.
"I think it’s real difficult for most guys, but not for him. He has just impressed us so much how he can make those minor alterations and just how aware he is of himself and his own mechanics and what it feels like. He’s been the kind of example that you need, especially for such a young staff," Matheny said. "They see a guy who has had all the accolades and is still figuring out how to make those minor changes and learning himself even better. That’s just a rare leadership quality."