JUPITER, Fla. – Adam Wainwright will breathe a sigh of relief when he makes his first Grapefruit League start sometime next week.
No, he’s not worried about how his right elbow will react – he’s just ready to do something else. The right-hander has been throwing from a mound for more than a month as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery.
“It seems like I’ve already completed spring training,” Wainwright said. “I’ve been throwing since January 12th off the mound, and not just playing catch off the mound either, almost full speed.
“I definitely feel like I’m at least towards the end of spring training so I have to be smart with how I use my arm.”
On the one-year anniversary of going under the knife, Wainwright was on Field 1 Tuesday throwing two simulated innings to Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina.
Wainwright upped the intensity from his previous outings, appearing to throw as hard and with as much effort as he has in the four throws since camp opened last weekend.
“He looked good,” Berkman said. “I’m just glad to have him back out there. He was throwing great. It looked like the ball was coming out of his hand good. He didn’t look like he was shorting any of his pitches. He was getting through everything and the ball was moving good. I think he’s right on track.”
Wainwright finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting after going 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA in 2010. From 2009-2010, the right-hander topped all National League starters with 39 wins, 463 1/3 innings pitched and a 2.53 ERA.
He’s improved in each of his four seasons as a starter, lowering his ERA from 3.70 in 2007 to 3.20 in 2008, 2.63 in 2009 and 2.42 in 2010. He won at least 11 games and had a winning record each year.
The right-hander elected to skip an optional side session Sunday but has reported no unexpected soreness or issues the past few weeks. Considered to be well ahead of schedule by some, Wainwright may actually be forced to slow down.
“I don’t feel fatigued at all, which is why I may every now and then, either throw less off the mound or just skip a light side,” Wainwright said. “No matter how I feel, I had Tommy John surgery last year so I need to be smart about it.
“And since I have thrown so much off the mound, I have to be smart about my innings before my innings. I don’t want to burn all my bullets in pre-pregame.”
The Cardinals penciled Wainwright into a start the first week of the regular season and worked backwards to formulate his spring training plan. He knows which games he will start this spring but declined to share.
At this point, Wainwright is not worrying about how his arm will feel. He’s worrying about how his curveball is breaking or how he can mix things up to find new ways to attack hitters.
“I’m going to teach myself how to pitch with more than just my breaking ball, ” Wainwright said. “Today I wanted to go out and establish that I can throw my good fastball on both sides of the plate and down and still get outs without having to trick guys.
“There’s times where I want to be able to throw all my pitches but today I really wanted to command my heater and mix in some of my other stuff.”
Wainwright threw one curveball Tuesday, which was hit up into the wind and carried over the fence by Molina. But he’s been throwing all of his pitches the past few weeks with no limitations, looking more and more ready for game action by the day.
A large crowd gathered to watch Tuesday’s throw, including teammates, front office personnel and about 75 fans. Wainwright hugged catcher Bryan Anderson following the session and the crowd clapped and cheered as he stepped off the mound.
One fan yelled, “Welcome back Wainwright,” prompting him to wave in their direction as he walked off.
“Knowing Adam and the type of person he is and the way he works, you knew he was going to come back and be fine,” said fellow starter Chris Carpenter. “He looks good, he really does. I think with the amount he’s thrown and the things he’s done so far in this process, it’s looking like he’s going to be OK.”
Said Wainwright: “I don’t feel like I’ve missed a year, I feel like my stuff is right there. But I still haven’t thrown a pitch in a game in over a year. It will be nice.”