Waino goes off-script: Carpenter a twist

May 16th, 2021

The Cardinals couldn’t have drawn it up much better if they tried. Command issues aplenty, they handed the ball to their proclaimed “bulldog” on Saturday night at Petco Park. , who has found a late-career revival as the club’s steadying hand, had one goal.

Lessen the walks, improve the staff-wide command and guide his team deep into the night, with a bullpen already taxed to its limits.

But the bug biting the Cardinals’ pitching staff persisted. Wainwright was nicked for three homers -- all of which came in the first three frames -- and lasted just one more, walking three and allowing six runs all told. Command issues for not just him but the four relievers who followed (save for position player ) derailed St. Louis in a 13-3 loss to the Padres.

“Command with everything -- fastball command was horrible, my cutter was up in the zone, changeup was up in the zone and my curveball was hangers, just absolute hangers,” Wainwright said. “Just really nothing you can say other than it was just a terrible performance. … 

“If kids were out there watching me today, hopefully, they took a nap or went and played Uno or something when I was pitching and hitting. That was an atrocious effort.”

Not only has Wainwright’s lengthy history warranted expectations of steadiness, but so had his recent résumé. The right-hander entered Saturday riding 11 consecutive scoreless innings. He fell two outs short of a shutout his last time on the mound.

“He's a warrior, absolute warrior,” said manager Mike Shildt. “He still wanted to pitch more. A testament to his heart, a testament to being a good teammate, because he knew our bullpen was a little thin.”

The Cardinals at least matched San Diego with three homers of their own. They came from (his second in as many days), (the first of his career in San Diego) and .

They were the only three positive notes until Carpenter took the mound in relief of in the seventh inning. made his first big league appearance at second base so Carpenter could make his first professional pitching appearance -- an idea proposed and promoted by Carpenter over the last several years.

“That's why I went out just to verify [on the mound],” Shildt said. “‘You sure?’ He was like, ‘Absolutely. Let me get in there.”

So Carpenter went ahead and tossed 26 pitches -- 25 of which were tracked by Statcast as curveballs averaging 60 mph -- for four outs and zero earned runs.

“It provides a little levity for the situation,” Shildt said.

Saturday was a throwback night of sorts. The Cardinals went 17 games into the season until a starter reached the seventh inning. (It was Wainwright on April 20.) They did, however, go 20 consecutive games with a starter tossing at least five frames.

And now a streak is at two consecutive games with a starter not reaching the fifth. Johan Oviedo lasted just 2 2/3 on Friday and was optioned to the Minors shortly thereafter.

With the short starts, the Cardinals squandered the potential for revenge this weekend against their 2020 Wild Card Series foe -- a Padres club missing several of its big boppers because of COVID-19 issues.

“I knew that they had three of their big guys out of the lineup, and I guarded against that early on. I didn't get complacent,” Wainwright said. “... I'm treating this game like an outlier.”

San Diego mashed 17 hits -- the highest conceded by St. Louis this season. 

“Unfortunately, there's a vicious cycle that can happen if you don't catch it early,” Wainwright said. “You see the game before, a bunch of walks, and then you go, ‘All right, I can't go out there and do that.’ And then you start thinking about not walking people instead of making pitches. And that's a trap that you can fall into.

“I think we've been falling into it a little bit, not trying to walk people instead of just trying to make pitches.”