Healthy Wainwright set for another first

Veteran righty to debut Monday; Hudson temporarily moves to bullpen

March 31st, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- For a pitcher who strongly contemplated retirement last season and is prepared to go year-to-year with his contract until he decides he’s done, understands that there is something extra to cherish when he takes the mound for his season debut on Monday.

He won’t know then, but the possibility that it’s his last first start of the season is a real possibility for a pitcher set to turn 38 later this year.

“I was convinced [my career] was over,” Wainwright said, on the eve of his appearance at PNC Park. “I’m glad it’s not.”

A resurgence last September swayed Wainwright to come back for more, and it led to the veteran right-hander signing a one-year extension with the Cardinals shortly after the season ended. It had been an arduous climb back for Wainwright, who endured six different stays on the injured list from 2015-18 and was limited to eight starts last year.

What has followed, though, has been refreshing. Wainwright had his first healthy offseason in years, and that set him up for a spring in which he could focus more on the movement of his pitches than the feeling in his body. He comes out of Spring Training ready to unleash his new split-finger fastball and confident he’s locked in with a repeatable delivery.

“It’s really neat,” manager Mike Shildt said. “You’re talking about a true warrior who loves this game and loves competition and loves this organization. You always want as an athlete of his ability and his history to feel like he’s doing it on his terms. He pushed and fought multiple times to get back from some of the things that have set him back. And it’s good to see him get on top of it and be rewarded and compete.”

Rotation reset

With off-days coming on Tuesday and Friday, the Cardinals will temporarily unplug from their five-man rotation to use him as an extra arm in the bullpen. Hudson will then rejoin the rotation for a start against the Dodgers on April 10.

The Cardinals put this plan in motion well before Hudson took the loss while throwing 4 1/3 innings in his first Major League start on Saturday. It was one of the reasons why the Cardinals felt comfortable opening the year with a seven-man ‘pen, and explained the team’s decision to have Hudson start the third game of the season.

Hudson is likely to be available out of the bullpen beginning on Wednesday, which will afford him three days to recover from his 88-pitch season debut.

“We’re obviously not going to push him,” Shildt said. “But it’s a nice weapon to have out of the bullpen for three or four days.”

Worth noting

• The Pirates will send their top two starters to the mound to face the Cardinals during the teams' upcoming meeting at PNC Park. Chris Archer will start on Monday, followed by Jameson Taillon on Wednesday.

Jedd Gyorko (right calf strain) remains on track to be activated from the 10-day injured list on Thursday and will travel to Pittsburgh so he can complete his rehab work under the supervision of the Major League staff. The trip will also afford Gyorko, a Morgantown, W.Va. native, the chance to sneak home for a few days.