As much as he would like to deny it, Adam Wainwright is aware that Father Time is undefeated. The St. Louis Cardinals’ 41-year-old pitcher, one of major league baseball’s beloved veterans, isn’t going down without a fight, though.
Waino’s Last Call Tour is expected to begin soon.
The man who’s been a fixture in a No. 50 Cardinals uniform since 2005, on the mound for some of the team’s biggest moments along the way, dropped into downtown Springfield on a sunny Wednesday afternoon for his first step back to the big leagues.
Wainwright started and pitched three innings for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals on an injury rehab assignment. He threw 59 pitches (40 for strikes) and allowed four hits and a two-run home run. He did not walk a Midland batter while striking out three.
Wainwright got better as the game went on
After signing autographs for dozens of youngsters lining the clubhouse beyond right field, Wainwright evaluated his outing as some bad, some good and, more important, something to build on in his first game action since straining his groin in the weight room at the World Baseball Classic.
“Too many pitches in three innings, but I got better as I went,” Wainwright said. “The last inning, I definitely felt more sharp. Just a lot of mistakes in those first two innings. I threw a lot of strikes. But a lot of pitches were in the middle of the plate.
“The last inning, I got a lot of takes. Got quick outs. That’s the way I pitch. My body feels good. The arm’s feeling great. It’s good to be back out there. I love competing. I love playing baseball. It’s good to be back pitching in front of a crowd again.”
Embracing a trip to Springfield
The crowd of 5,581 was inflated due to several hundred youngsters on hand for a pre-scheduled Educational Day at the ballpark. Wainwright joked that the kids had little idea who he was, but loved Fredbird’s little brother Louie.
He recalled pitching in Springfield in a rehab assignment about five years ago, also a day game with a huge throng of kids on SpongeBob Squarepants Day. It might be easy for some veterans to dread a trip to Double-A, but Wainwright said he embraces Springfield for the venue, the fans and a trip to City Butcher for barbecue.
The only downside to this visit: City Butcher was sold out of brisket when he stopped by on Tuesday and the wind was blowing straight out as he pitched.
“Otherwise, it’s a treat,” Wainwright said of Hammons Field. “They always treat you like royalty here and make us feel loved.”
Wainwright passes on his knowledge to young Cardinals
Wainwright also used his visit to pass on his knowledge to the young Cardinals who are striving to get to the big show. He said he met with the pitchers as a group before Wednesday’s game.
“It’s good to come in and talk to the players,” he said. “I had a great opportunity today to speak to the pitchers and just talk about playing for a long time and some of the tricks of the trade. What to do and what not to do. It was fun.
“I love speaking to young people. These guys have bright futures and I love being a part of that.”
Asked for his most-important advice, Wainwright said having a good game plan and a strong mental game plan is vital.
“Mentally believe you can do it and the fortitude it takes to pitch for a long time and pitch through things,” he said. “You don’t feel great sometimes. You have to find a way. Those types of things.”
Pitchers also can make things harder on themselves than need be.
“It’s all about execution,” he said. “Keep it simple. So many times pitchers complicate things. They make it harder, and it’s already hard enough to get these hitters out. Professional hitters are the best in the world.”
Wainwright always has used his mental smarts to excel. His fastball topped out at 90 mph on Wednesday, well below the norm in today’s professional baseball world. But his ability to change speeds and locate his pitches has earned him a 195-117 career record with 2,147 strikeouts.
‘I need to make the most of it’
After announcing over the winter that 2023 would be his final season, Wainwright is eager to get back to St. Louis and help the struggling Cardinals turn things around. But he knows that he also must exercise patience.
“I’m not gonna rush back if it’s not the right timing. My stuff needs to be clicking,” Wainwright said. “It needs to be moving late and have good life on it. I need to control counts. I controlled counts well for the most part today, but I was too much in the middle of the plate and that’s why I gave up a few hits.
“That’s why we’re here though. This is the first game out. When I come back in, I’ll be ready.”
Time will tell, but Wainwright hopes it’s a special last go-around. The likely last appearance in Springfield could be an important springboard for Waino’s Last Call.
“Especially knowing it’s the last one. I don’t want to waste any time,” he said of 2023. “I don’t want to get there before I’m ready, but I also know that I only have a few more. I probably have 25 or 26 more starts when I come back in and I need to make the most of it.”
As for the St. Louis Cardinals and their struggling 8-11 start, he said the team has “tons of talent. We just haven’t played like a team yet and haven’t played to our capabilities, but we will. There’s nobody in there who’s given up hope. We’ll be fine.”
Springfield Cardinals’ homestand
- Tuesday: Springfield 12, Midland 5
- Wednesday: Midland 8, Springfield 7
- Thursday: vs. Midland, 6:35 p.m.
- Friday: vs. Midland, 6:35 p.m.
- Saturday: vs. Midland, 6:05 p.m.
- Sunday: vs. Midland, 1:35 p.m.