Waino gets first Classic start for Team USA

March 7th, 2023

LAKELAND, Fla. -- After being the first Cardinals pitcher to throw a live batting practice session and the first to start a Grapefruit League game this Spring Training, will also be the first pitcher to start for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

St. Louis manager Oli Marmol confirmed on Tuesday that Wainwright, a Cardinals cornerstone for the past 18 seasons, was chosen as Team USA’s Game 1 starter by manager Mark DeRosa weeks ago. To make sure that Wainwright was properly prepared for Saturday night’s start in Phoenix (9 p.m. ET, FOX) against Great Britain in the WBC, the Cardinals arranged their Spring Training pitching schedules around the 41-year-old’s availability for Team USA.

“[Pitching Game 1] is something that we based his spring around; we already knew [Wainwright was starting Game 1] and [DeRosa] and [pitching coach Andy Pettitte] have done a nice job of communicating with us,” Marmol said. “So, we built [Wainwright and ] for that [schedule]. That [decision] was made a while ago.”

Mikolas, another top starter for the Cardinals, is tentatively scheduled to pitch on Wednesday when Team USA faces Colombia in pool play of the WBC, Marmol noted.

Two Cardinals cornerstones, NL MVP and MVP finalist , are also on the Team USA roster. The Cardinals have an MLB-most 17 players spread out across the globe and participating in the WBC, including  starring with South Korea and Lars Nootbaar with Japan.

Wainwright, a 2006 World Series champion and a winner of 195 games with the Cardinals, said he reached out to DeRosa and USA Baseball last fall and let it be known that he would welcome the opportunity to pitch for his country. Wainwright said he has never fully gotten over being cut from the 2004 Olympic qualifying team and this could be his way of representing his country in a positive way.

“There’s a lot of pride there and my family is very excited for me,” said Wainwright, who hopes to have his wife, Jenny, and his four children on hand for his first pitching outing. “My mom and my brother are very happy for me, and all the people back home [in Brunswick, Ga.] are fired up and excited for me to go do it, too.”

Wainwright, who set the NL/AL battery record with Yadier Molina with 328 career starts last season, recently revealed that a case of back spasms left him with stiffness in his left leg and glute. That stiffness played a role in him allowing eight hits and four earned runs in five innings this spring, he said. With nine days between his final start of Spring Training and Saturday’s start for Team USA, Wainwright felt he would have sufficient time to be in top form when he pulls on his red-white-and-blue-jersey.

As for Mikolas, an All-Star for a second time last season, he has allowed just two hits and no runs, while striking out six in five innings so far this spring.

“We knew about Waino and Miles way in advance from a starting perspective to plan it out appropriately so they would be ready,” said Marmol, who noted that the two Cardinals pitchers will likely be capped at four-inning or 65-pitch outings.