The 2016 season was an aberration for Adam Wainwright, and from the moment it ended, Wainwright was eager to prove it.
Wainwright’s 4.62 ERA last season was almost double his ERA from 2014, his next-most recent full season (he had a tidy 2.38 mark that year). It wasn’t him; it was a fluke–not, as critics have suggested, a sign of his decline.
Tuesday, as the second Cardinal starter to toe the rubber this season, Wainwright got his first chance set the record straight. Because of the premium placed on runs in the game, Wainwright didn’t quite enjoy a full-length opportunity to do so.
At only 82 pitches after five innings of work, Wainwright was lifted in the bottom of the fifth for Matt Adams as a pinch hitter. Stephen Piscotty had just scored the team’s only run of the game, and the Cardinals trailed the Cubs 2-1. With a runner on second and Wainwright’s turn to hit, Mike Matheny elected to go for a chance to tie the game.
Adams came up empty; Wainwright got tagged for the loss. The Cubs produced their only runs of a 2-1 win in the fourth inning on a Jason Heyward bloop single and a Javier Baez safety squeeze–hardly a battering of the veteran right-hander.
“I think the turning point of the game, obviously their safety squeeze,” Wainwright said. He tried to go home with the ball, but was too late to nab Contreras at the plate. “I hesitated a little bit to see if it would go foul. I should have just scooped it to him. That was my fault.”
Wainwright managed to limit the damage following the botched squeeze play, striking out the last two batters of the inning after throwing what he termed “one of the worst pitches of all-time.” He spiked an 0-2 pitch to Jake Arrieta into the grass not even halfway to home plate after noticing mid-pitch that he was not on the same page as his catcher, Yadier Molina.
“I saw (Molina) shift outside, and I was looking at a different part of the plate,” Wainwright said. “When I saw that, instantly, and I’ve seen it before, I thought he was looking for a breaking ball. I had fastball grip. I did not want to throw a ball and hit him in the collarbone or something, and have Yadier out. So I pull-hooked it, erred on the side of not hitting him–by 20 or 30 yards.”
Wainwright and Molina conferred after the pitch to straighten out any miscommunication. Wainwright maintained after the game that he still prefers the outcome of the now-viral pitch rather than the possibility of injuring the team’s star catcher had Wainwright crossed him with a pitch he wasn’t expecting.
“In that spot, I know I’m 0-2 on the pitcher,” Wainwright said. “Even though he’s a good hitter, I feel like I can get him. I know it’s gonna be a wild pitch, but I’d rather have a wild pitch–second and third with a (1-2) count, one out–than have Yadier on the stretcher.
“He told me next time just throw it–he’ll catch it. He’s probably one of the only people in the world that could do that, but no reason to risk it.”
Beyond the peculiarities of the fourth inning, Wainwright was solid. He struck out six batters, giving up only three hits. Though little was learned about Wainwright’s ability to grind through the latter innings of an outing, he performed capably through the opportunity he had.
“I had good stuff,” Wainwright said. “I’ve got to hone a little bit better. I got strike one good tonight. I need to attack a little better after strike one. My stuff was good, just got to go out there and be aggressive with it and let them put the ball in play.”