JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- About a week ago, Adam Wainwright was preparing to throw a very important pitch to a partner he’s trusted his entire adult life. One of his great loves, his curveball, had been missing. In this moment he thought he’d found it, so it seemed fitting the person he trusts most was poised to catch it.
His wife Jenny stood in their Jupiter living room, hands out.
“I told my wife, I said, ‘Hey I think I figured something out.’ I went and got a ball from the bedroom and came back in and said, ‘Hey stand back about 10 feet,” Wainwright said. “I just flipped it to her and I went (clap) ‘Yeah!’ I knew right away.”
He knew the sensation of his curveball feeling right, and in that moment, knew why it felt so wrong last season.
The veteran righty fought himself for much of 2016. He’d fix one thing Monday and have a new to-do list by the end of Saturday’s start. Stretches of confidence were short-lived, and the master of adjustments couldn’t solve the riddle. In large part, his surgically repaired leg was to blame. Unable to support himself through his delivery, the 6’7 Wainwright would fall off to the side of the mound. It affected all of his pitches, so it was safe to assume his curve fell victim as well.
But this season, his leg is healthy. Added strength and stability allowed him to finish pitches the way he used to. His velocity was up. But his signature pitch, one so synonymous with his name he picked his Twitter handle in honor of it, was still nowhere to be found.
“I went home after a game and was going ‘Where is this thing? Why is it not the same as it always has been?’” he said Thursday. “I mean I’ve thrown it the same way for 20 years and all of a sudden…”
At a loss, he consulted the world’s foremost expert on the Adam Wainwright curveball: Adam Wainwright.
“I remembered I did a curveball video with Al Leiter on the bullpen mounds over here in 2012 or 2013,” he said, gesturing to the spring training fields beyond the clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium. “I went back and looked up on YouTube (it turns out that video was actually on MLB.com) ‘Adam Wainwright teaching a curveball.’”
What he saw sent a jolt through his body. After wondering about his leg, his delivery and his finish, the problem was his hand. After all that fretting, maybe the baseball itself was just in the wrong place.
“I paused [the video] on the iPad, or it might have been my phone, I paused it and I went, ‘I think my grip is different.’ I went and grabbed the ball and put it in [my hand] and I twisted it. Then I put it back to where I was, then I twisted it and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” he said, a big grin spreading across his face.
While he was busy focusing on lower half strength, his hands had been idle. True to the proverb about such things, they had gotten him in trouble. Instead of his usual grip, one that positioned the seams beneath his fingers and allowed him to pull against them to coax the big, sweeping break he’s used to, he had twisted the ball in such a way that his hand had much less leverage.
That realization prompted the game of impromptu catch with his wife, in which a bedroom baseball- one he keeps around for just such purposes- became a harbinger of things to come, a reborn breaking ball first tossed to his betrothed.
His rediscovered grip yielded tremendous results in Thursday’s spring debut. His curveball, swooping and diving as it had in years past, was responsible for two of his three strikeouts.
“I have my curveball back. It’s so great to have it back. It was missing for awhile, but now we have it back and that’s all that matters,” he said, his voice reminiscent of an excited teenager. “It makes me want to go get a ball right now and trace my fingers on it for all my little grips that I like and am comfortable with.”
He hopes he can do the same thing with his cutter, a pitch he described as “sloppy” Thursday and the culprit behind a pair of home runs to Atlanta prospects Dansby Swanson and Adam Walker II.
According to Wainwright the pitch is still “a couple games away” from being ready, but its struggles did little to spoil the reunion with his curveball.
“I wanted to feel my curveball again,” he said. “Nobody likes giving up homers, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to give up homers on terrible cutters, but I’ll be just fine.”
He threw seven or eight breaking balls in his debut and loved every one. He’ll throw dozens more in the coming weeks, and believes each one will bring him closer to his Cy Young challenger form. Baseball is a million moving gears that must all synch up for success. Adam Wainwright has been searching for a path back to synchronicity for more than a year. It started with a 10-foot living room toss to his wife.