Waino named Opening Day starter for sixth time

Wainwright makes his final spring tune-up in intrasquad scrimmage

April 2nd, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- Thinking ahead to Opening Day in St. Louis -- when bunting hangs from the mezzanine, Hall of Famers don bright red jackets, Clydesdales circle the field, and fans froth at the sight of baseball -- gets Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright excited for the baseball in his hands.

Even at 40 years old, even as he enters his 18th and potentially final season, Wainwright still craves to compete, prowls to pitch and aches to open the season. And even after throwing 89 pitches on Saturday and facing the heart of St. Louis’ lineup in a scrimmage, Wainwright was eagerly anticipating Thursday’s Opening Day assignment at Busch Stadium against the Pirates.

“To some degree, Opening Day would be a fun day to sit back and be a fan,” said Wainwright, who won’t get to ride in a convertible during pregame ceremonies because he’ll be warming up in the bullpen. “But [on Opening Day], when the fans are that excited and they’ve got the grills out [in the parking lot] and [children are] taking school off, I want to be pitching that day.”

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol made the obvious official on Saturday, when he named Wainwright the Opening Day starter. For the most part, that had been a no-brainer since Wainwright showed up to Spring Training in good enough shape to throw batting practice on the first day and make the staff’s first start in a spring game. Now, Wainwright will pitch for a sixth time on Opening Day (second only in club history to Bob Gibson’s 10) and for a seventh time in a Cardinals home opener (one more than the Hall of Famer).

“That’s why he’s been in the game for 62 years,” joked Marmol, referring to the professionalism Wainwright displayed by showing up in top shape. “He’s a pro’s pro, he knows what he needs to get his body ready, and he’s someone we can trust and count on. I’m glad to be able to see him on Opening Day.”

Wainwright’s final spring start was moved to a backfield at the Roger Dean Stadium complex to avoid the thunderstorms that hit Saturday night before the Grapefruit League game against the Astros. By pitching in the intrasquad scrimmage, Wainwright not only got to face Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Albert Pujols and Tyler O’Neill, but he faced them repeatedly. It only added intrigue to the cat-and-mouse game that Wainwright loves so much.

Over his first four innings, Wainwright allowed only opposite-field doubles to Goldschmidt and Arenado. In the fifth, as his pitch count rose to 89, he was taken deep by O’Neill for a three-run home run and Pujols punched a single to right field. Otherwise, Wainwright said he had a blast while sharpening his competitive edge.

“It’s good practice because you get good feedback -- you can talk to [the hitters], 'What did you see? Why did you swing? And why in the world did you not swing at that?'” said Wainwright, who joked with Pujols throughout. “That’s a tough couple of guys to go against over and over.”

Wainwright was encouraged by what he saw while facing Pujols -- his teammate again after they played together from 2005-11 and helped the Cardinals win two World Series. Wainwright sees lots of improvement from Pujols, even from last season when he finished strong with the Dodgers.

“It was surreal last year facing Albert,” Wainwright said. “He looks better this year at the plate than last year. He looks really strong. He missed a couple of balls off me that flew all the way to the warning track. His bat path is looking really good.”

Wainwright hopes to look good on Thursday, his first Opening Day assignment since 2016. The Cardinals are 2-3 in his Opening Day starts, and he wants to even that record and get the Cardinals off to a good start in what he thinks could be another World Series season. The key, he said, will be controlling his emotions on a special day.

“My approach never changes. Even if I thought we were going to lose 120 games, I’d still be pitching with that intensity, but I expect this team to do great things and win a World Series,” Wainwright said.

“I’ve never struggled with butterflies. I get more butterflies asking my wife out on a date than I do about pitching. I will have to check my emotions, adrenaline-wise, because I will empty the tank too early if I don’t keep that in check. I’ll be mindful of that, but I’ll be ready to pitch.”