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By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor - Archive - Email
After gem, Wainwright seems all the way back
After a slow start Adam Wainwright is starting to show improvement.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Maybe the expectations were a little too high for St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright coming out of spring training.

After missing all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, the 2010 20-game winner went out and pitched this spring as if he never missed a game, going 2-0 with a splendid 1.45 ERA.

His impressive showing in Grapefruit League action softened the blow when the team learned that Chris Carpenter would start the year on the disabled list with nerve irritation in his right shoulder.

With manager Tony La Russa gone, Albert Pujols taking his swings in the American League and Carpenter potentially out for a long time, at least the Cards still had one of their aces, right?

Well, things didn't go as smoothly for Wainwright at the outset. In fact, he looked awful in losing his first three starts, as he had surrendered 15 runs in his first 13 2/3 innings.

Luckily, the Cardinals offense, specifically Carlos Beltran, thrived, as have right-handers Lance Lynn and Kyle Lohse, and the team has been able to overcome Wainwright's miserable beginning.

Slowly, but surely, Wainwright started to show improvement. After the poor start, he won two in a row, but followed that with two straight losses that had dropped him to 2-5 with a 5.77 ERA heading into Tuesday's start with San Diego.

However, Wainwright's comeback make hay come full circle on Tuesday, as he resembled the pitcher who won 39 games from 2009-10 and was a top-three finisher in NL Cy Young voting in those years, tossing a four-hit shutout to beat San Diego.

More importantly, Wainwright may have just let the rest of the NL Central know that the defending world champions do in fact still have at least one ace.

"I told (fellow starter) Jake (Westbrook) that might be the best feeling I've ever had pitching," said Wainwright, whose sensational performance came in front of a Busch Stadium crowd of 39,151. "I've done some things that are pretty fun, but I can never remember feeling that emotional after a game."

That's actually kind of remarkable considering he was the one on the hill for the final out when the Cardinals upended the Detroit Tigers to claim the 2006 World Series.

Wainwright, though, was spectacular on Tuesday. He retired 16 of the game's first 17 batters and the four hits he allowed were a season-low. He had averaged 16.8 pitchers per inning through his first eight starts, but against the Padres needed only 111 pitches to get the job done.

"I tried to let the end of the game sneak up on me," Wainwright said. "I think there have been a lot of times this year looking up at the scoreboard, counting the innings. Tonight I wanted to pitch, and when the end of the game came, I wanted it to be a surprise."

Wainwright just looked different on Tuesday. He credited two things. One, a recent side bullpen session that he locked into a more consistent lower arm slot than he had been featuring, and, two, and probably more importantly, a mind-set of just going out and attacking batters.

"Now, I've kind of set the bar," Wainwright said. "I want to make sure I'm locked in like that every game."

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny actually stated after the game that Jesus Guzman, who grounded out to short with two on to end the game, would have been Wainwright's final batter. Wainwright was told that he had 15 pitches for the ninth, then he was going to get pulled. He hit the number exactly.

"I knew I could do it," Wainwright said. "I knew I would do it."

Imagine that scene at Busch had Matheny come out to get him.

"You know, we saw him get closer and closer, and it's nice to have that kind of reward, that kind of outing from start to finish," Matheny said. "That'll be one he's going to build on."

The Cards could certainly use the boost, as the team has become somewhat of a walking wounded of late. Carpenter has still yet to pitch in a game this season, while Lance Berkman (right knee), Allen Craig (left hamstring), Kyle McClellan (elbow), John Jay (right shoulder), and, most recently, Matt Carpenter (oblique) have all been felled by injury within the last two weeks.

Still, the Cards keep fighting on atop the standings in the NL Central, a spot they have held since Opening Day.

If Wainwright is back to being Wainwright, they might be there a lot longer.

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