So let me get this out there first: I love Adam Wainwright. I really do. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for his many years of high-quality service. One of my fondest memories as a Cardinal fan is being a freshman in college, clasping hands with my roommate, and watching Waino whiff Brandon Inge to win the first championship I’d ever seen (honorable mentions: dancing around my room, hand-in-hand with my cousin after Pujols’s walkoff blast off Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS and going from pure despair and anguish to unbridled, overflowing joy in the company of my then-girlfriend-now-wife after David Freese’s miracle workings in 2011).
It’s been almost 13 years since I fell in love with Waino. He’s had a great career, with three All Star appearances, two 20-win seasons, two Gold Gloves, and even a Silver Slugger to his name. But he’s 37 years old now. It feels like he’s barely pitched the past few years. Since his 2014 All Star season, he’s only had one season in which he started more than 30 games. Two of those seasons were in the single digits. Last year we only got eight starts out of him, going 2-4 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. Many thought he might be done pitching altogether, himself included, but he tossed 17 scoreless rehab innings and looked a little more like his old self in four September starts, including 6 scoreless innings against the then-Manny Machado led Dodgers. He felt he had more to offer the Cardinals, and they showed faith in him by offering a one-year, $2 million contract that included incentive bonuses.
Wainwright says he’s the healthiest he’s been in years. He admitted to not being fully confident in his arm the past couple years, and this year he’s excited to finally be able to concentrate fully on training instead of recovering. He claims this spring has felt like 2014, which, again, was his last year as an All Star.
It’s an overused phrase, but I’m very cautiously optimistic that Waino can be a meaningful, consistent contributor for the Cards this year. He had a couple really nice outings last season against the Cubs and Dodgers, and he obviously wasn’t fully healthy the entire time. If he really is feeling like himself, then even at 37 years old I think he can do good things. Maybe even great. He seems to be hungry for a chance to prove himself. Maybe having to work hard to show everyone he’s still got it is just what it will take to see the Adam Wainwright I’ve loved for so many years. The organization believes in him enough to give it another year, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he makes of it.
For now, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt has said Wainwright has a spot in the rotation. How long he can keep the spot is another matter. Carlos Martinez is walking around with his arm in a sling, and Alex Reyes is as big a question mark as there is. Ahead of Waino is Opening Day starter Miles Mikolas, the electrifying Jack Flaherty, and Michael Wacha, who was on his way to a great 2018 season before an injury. After that it gets a little iffy. Austin Gomber, John Gant, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Dakota Hudson are all in the mix. If Reyes can get healthy, one would have to think he’s going to start, given the sheer filthiness of his stuff. He’s already proven he can be elite when everything is clicking.
Of course it’s incredibly early, and an incredibly small sample size, but if his first spring training start is any indication, my guess would be Waino keeps his spot in the rotation. He spun out two perfect innings against the Washington Nationals, who played most of their starters, and he says he feels great. Waino isn’t necessarily needed in the bullpen; it already looks really good, especially if Jordan Hicks can keep improving. Andrew Miller is a stud (when healthy), and Ryan Helsley looked excellent in his first spring game. A veteran starter who can eat innings and get outs is something any team in the league would want. It all depends on Waino proving he’s still got it and has the stamina to keep it up.
This team has the potential to be very good and make a legit run in the postseason, so who knows – maybe more cherished memories from Adam Wainwright are still in the cards.
Photo via: USA Today Sports Images