Wainwright enters spring feeling strong

Cardinals' ace missed most of 2015 with left Achilles tear

February 18th, 2016

JUPITER, Fla. -- Adam Wainwright insists the moment wasn't scripted, but it might as well have been so.

There Wainwright was, the first out of the clubhouse door following the Cardinals' morning meeting, the rest of the team's pitchers and catchers trailing in line behind him. He led the flock to Field 1, where some subsequent stretching marked the first official activity of the Cards' 2016 season.

It was a poignant moment -- a symbolic one, too -- as the return of baseball was initiated by a man who intends to return as the ace of the Cardinals' pitching staff this season.

"It kind of just happened by chance," Wainwright said. "It sends a good message, though, either way, right?"

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Wainwright later threw the first pitch of spring, embarking on the start of a season that he hopes won't be interrupted by injury. He's fully recovered from a torn left Achilles that sidelined him last April and left him only able to contribute in relief during the postseason.

Seeking something positive from an otherwise frustrating year of rehab, Wainwright feels the benefit of having logged 33 1/3 total innings in 2015.

"I have to look at it as it was, and missing five months last year, it did me some good," Wainwright said. "I was able to save some bullets, get some rest and heal a lot of things that were kind of achy on me. It's not something you want to do -- you don't want to miss a season, obviously. But taking the good with the bad, it allowed my body to heal up completely."

Wainwright compared his arm now to how it felt in 2013, when he was two years removed from Tommy John surgery. He led the league in wins (19), complete games (five), shutouts (two) and innings pitched (241 2/3) while finishing as the runner-up to Clayton Kershaw in the National League Cy Young Award vote that year.

Wainwright finished as an NL Cy Young Award finalist the next year, too, but he pitched with on-and-off discomfort for months. He required surgery in October 2014 to trim a piece of cartilage from his right elbow. More than a year removed from that procedure, Wainwright said he has noticed an improvement with the sink and cut of his pitches. He described his arm as feeling "amazing."

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The Cardinals haven't unveiled their plans for Wainwright's spring program, though the club doesn't see a need for him to overdo it on the mound. Before an abdominal injury halted Wainwright's work last spring, the team had announced plans to have him make four Grapefruit League starts and not throw live batting practice as early as other pitchers.