ST. LOUIS -- Speaking at Winter Warm-Up on Sunday, Adam Wainwright acknowledged that it took three September starts last season to convince him that his right arm still had something left to give.
Leading into the season's final month, Wainwright had been on the disabled list for the sixth time in four seasons, this most recent instance the result of an elbow injury that surfaced in early May. A pitcher who had once been a 200-inning workhorse had thrown 18 through the season's first five months. He was preparing to call it a career.
Then came an unexpected, but welcomed, pivot.
"I stopped feeling like my arm was going to break every time I threw the ball and all of a sudden it started feeling good again, and now, all of a sudden, I could build a little arm strength," Wainwright explained. "I was just happy to be able to throw a ball and not be totally reliant upon God to get me through to the next pitch. If you have to step off a hundred times a game and go, 'Oh gee, please … hopefully they'll hit a line drive right to somebody, and we can get a triple play.' You know, that's not a good way to think about things."
At 37 years old, Wainwright is ready to take his career day by day now. He feels encouraged after enjoying an offseason with "no stitches to get out or surgeries to have," and rejuvenated by the young pitching talent around him. He also gambled on himself in signing a one-year contract in October that is built around incentives.
The Cardinals intend to give Wainwright every opportunity to snag a spot in their Opening Day rotation, but will give him consideration for a bullpen role if it's determined that starting is no longer the best fit.
"I want to win, you know?" Wainwright said when asked how open he'd be to a new role. "But there's still a big part of me that thinks that I'm going to win a Cy Young [Award], so, I mean, if that's pitching in middle relief I'd be the first one ever to do that.
"If I'm being honest, looking back at last year and even the year before, just the way my arm was feeling, I might have said, 'I'm going to go out and win this year, 25 games' or whatever. But deep down I wasn't mentally there, you know what I mean? It's one thing to say it and a whole other thing to believe it. I don't know, I'm on a whole different level health-wise than I've been in a few years. So we'll see what happens."
Cardinals continue defense of St. Louis
A day after Yadier Molina responded to Kristopher Bryant's playful comments about "boring" St. Louis, others in the organization also stepped up in the city's defense.
"I don't know anybody in St. Louis who enjoys that opinion," said John Brebbia.
"These people in St. Louis are really respectful, and I think they are the best fans in the world," Jose Martinez added. "I'm always going to have a respect for them, and we are going to fight back if somebody says something like that."
But perhaps the most thoughtful response came from manager Mike Shildt, who offered an especially effective counterpoint by highlighting several former Cardinals who, following their playing careers, have continued to call St. Louis home.
"I went to the Stan Musial Awards dinner [in November], and Stan seemed to find this to be a nice home for him and his family and has created a legacy with his award," Shildt began. "I saw Ozzie Smith, another local St. Louisan, receive an award for doing some charitable work. About a week later I went to the Pujols Foundation gala, which they do wonderful charity work in the St. Louis area. Albert still feels inclined to come back. Matthew Holliday will be at an event, Holliday's Heroes, Monday night. So he finds it interesting to come back.
"I've always looked forward to bumping into Whitey [Herzog] around town, who still lives here. Lou Brock still is a proud St. Louisan. I had a wonderful, I felt like a wonderful, entertaining dinner last night with Paul and Amy Goldschmidt at Dominic's [restaurant], and I was far from bored in a three-hour dinner that we enjoyed. I'd like to think Paul enjoyed himself, and Amy as well.
"Monday night I'm going to have dinner with Jim Edmonds, who is now living here and moved from sunny California. I don't think he's overly bored with St. Louis. I don't think dinner will be boring with him and Tony [La Russa], who comes back and does some [Animal Rescue Foundation] events.
"Everyone has their own definition of boring."