ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Three starts into his season, staff ace Adam Wainwright says he feels farther off the mark now than he did a month ago.
“I’ve made more mistakes these first three games than I have in entire seasons I feel like,” he told reporters after Saturday’s loss to the Reds.
In 16.1 innings over three games, Wainwright has an 8.27 ERA and a WHIP nearing 2. He’s allowed 22 hits, 11 of which were for extra bases.
“You’re going to have to beat me with singles, traditionally. I don’t give up a lot of extra base hits,” he said. “I’m in a tough spot right now. I’m not going to lie to you and I’m not going to sugarcoat it; tell you I’m great and guys are just getting lucky. No, I’m throwing the ball in the middle of the plate and they’re crushing it.”
Asked to identify what the issue was, Wainwright declined to go into details. He conceded his delivery was not in sync, and though he worked in spring to identify the mechanical anomalies that indicated he needed to adjust, has been unable to keep his motion where he wants it.
That discombobulation has left his vast pitch repertoire in a state of questionable dependability. At times his signature curve dives vertically through the zone hard and fast. Other times it’s loopy; it’s trajectory too wide to be effective and crossing squarely with the swing path of an eager bat.
All of his pitches- his cutter was called out specifically as well- are mushier than he’d like. Sometimes they’re there, sometimes they appear to forget where they’re supposed to go.
“I’m trusting all of them, they’re just not doing what they’re supposed to do,” Wainwright explained. “The first few innings today I thought I’d really found it. I just have to do a better job staying on top of it until things click in.”
Usually, the 34-year-old righty goes easy in his bullpen sessions. He tends to ease off and not throw full speed, in order to “save some bullets.” With the trouble he’s had to start the year, he’s started eschewing that strategy, throwing at game speed in bullpens, in hopes of getting his delivery to lock into place.
For the first nine outs Saturday, it looked to have worked. Wainwright was out of the first inning in just six pitches and set the first six hitters down in order. He allowed two singles in the third, but finished three innings in just 34 pitches.
Over the next 2.1 innings, he threw 40 pitches, allowed eight hits and surrendered a 4-0 lead.
“About the fifth I started falling into some old habits again,” he said.
That inning saw three doubles from the Reds, including one from pitching Brandon Finnegan. The sixth saw another two-bagger, and after a run and three hits, Wainwright’s day was done.
“There’s not a whole lot of good things I can say about it, is there? I was given another big lead and I blew it again. The only way I can look at it in a positive light is that the first three or four innings I was pretty crisp,” he said. “Three or four good innings today hopefully leads to six or seven, maybe eight next time.”
Wainwright’s faith in his ability is unshakable, as his his belief his stay in the pitching doldrums is a temporary one. Manager Mike Matheny says he knows his ace is frustrated, but hasn’t seen anything in his reactions other than determination to reverse course as fast as possible.
2016’s start is very similar to Wainwright’s 2012, the first year he returned after Tommy John surgery. Over his first three starts that season, he surrendered 18 hits over 13.2 innings and had an ERA near 10. He finished with 14 wins and an ERA of 3.94. That year, he opened the season serving up home runs, “like I was throwing home run derby.” Despite the high number of extra base hits in his first three 2016 starts, he isn’t drawing a line from Tommy John recovery in 2012 to this season’s rebound from a torn Achilles.
He’s simply not throwing the way he wants to. What 2012 taught him, he says, is as long as he keeps working, he’ll find it again.
“You pitch a few games like this, you don’t really deserve to tell people to relax. What I will and can say is I will come out of this,” he said. “I will be a very good pitcher, I’m just not right now.”