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Wainwright finds form in Cards' loss to Brewers

Veteran righty fires seven strong innings, K's 4
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- The subject of identity came up again in the Cardinals' clubhouse Wednesday, after St. Louis dropped the rubber game to the Brewers by a 3-2 score. This is a common theme these days when talking about Adam Wainwright, to Adam Wainwright or both. It's considered often in the 36-year-old's mind. Who he is. The pitcher he's been. And what type of pitcher, at this stage in his career, he can still be.

"I can't try to be Carlos Martinez or Jordan Hicks," Wainwright said. "I need to be me. If I do that, I'll be fine."

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ST. LOUIS -- The subject of identity came up again in the Cardinals' clubhouse Wednesday, after St. Louis dropped the rubber game to the Brewers by a 3-2 score. This is a common theme these days when talking about Adam Wainwright, to Adam Wainwright or both. It's considered often in the 36-year-old's mind. Who he is. The pitcher he's been. And what type of pitcher, at this stage in his career, he can still be.

"I can't try to be Carlos Martinez or Jordan Hicks," Wainwright said. "I need to be me. If I do that, I'll be fine."

View Full Game Coverage

Truly, the empirical evidence -- radar readings, spin-rate data, numbers crunched ad nauseum -- suggests a pitcher demonstrably different than the Cy Young Award candidate Wainwright once was. But Wednesday he proved this new version can still be effective, at the absolute least a serviceable part of a big league rotation.

More than ever before, the new Wainwright will depend on commanding the ball early and controlling counts. His velocity will oscillate, often intentionally and sometimes dramatically. And when the righty is going right, he will do many things well, eliciting soft contact and offering durability chief among them.

"That's how I pitched all spring," Wainwright said. "That's what I want to do. That's what I expect to do."

Tweet from @Cardinals: 7 innings. 3 earned runs. 4 strikeouts.@UncleCharlie50 hands the ball off to the bullpen#STLCards pic.twitter.com/aPduaUPC3D

Wainwright could do little to control his fate as the losing pitcher Wednesday. A hit by the pitcher with two on in the fifth would have helped. But his main job is on the mound, ultimately separate from an offense stuck in a funk with runners in scoring position. And there, he rebounded nicely from a season debut Wainwright now says he was "too amped up for."

"It was the last start that was the anomaly," Wainwright said.

He needed just 90 pitches to complete seven solid innings, over which he allowed little more than two solo home runs. The righty allowed three runs on eight hits, just four of which exceeded Statcast™'s "hard-hit" threshold of 95 mph. He walked none, carrying much of the freight on a day the Cardinals were down at least three players, including Yadier Molina, who served his one-game suspension, and unavailable relievers Bud Norris and Hicks.

"We needed that real bad," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We were short, short in the 'pen. We needed him to throw the kind of game he threw today. He kept us in it striking distance, which is all you can ask."

But the home runs hurt. Brewers center fielder Hernan Perez launched a no-doubt, 441-foot shot in the second, and Eric Thames added a moon shot in the fourth. A ground ball-based rally resulted in another Brewers run in the fifth to back starter Junior Guerra, who returned from the Minors to win his season debut. Tommy Pham's solo home run in the ninth inched the Cardinals closer, but Matt Albers stranded the tying run on second to earn his first save.

Video: MIL@STL: Matheny talks Wainwright, close 3-2 defeat

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Just enough: Harrison Bader had the height. He had the jump. He just couldn't come up with the ball. Bader came about as close as one can to robbing a home run without actually doing so when Thames' fifth big fly of the season somehow eluded him in the third. Thames' towering drive -- hit with a 43-degree launch angle, according to Statcast™, making it the highest over-the-wall home run in the Majors of the young season -- came almost straight down into Bader's glove before landing over the wall to give Milwaukee a 2-0 lead.

Video: MIL@STL: Thames sneaks home run over right-field wall

"It's a tough pill to swallow, knowing you lost a one-run game," Bader said. "And that was your one run."

One last, late chance: Groggy for much of the afternoon after a quick turnaround, the Cardinals' offense fought back in the ninth against a duo of Milwaukee relievers. Pham homered off Josh Hader to begin the frame. Then Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez singled off Albers with one out. St. Louis had two chances to drive in the tying run against Albers, who they rallied successfully against Monday. But Kolten Wong popped out and pinch hitter Dexter Fowler struck out swinging, bringing a nine-inning end to a series that had been defined by extra-inning games.

Video: MIL@STL: Albers strikes out Fowler, collects save

QUOTABLE
"It's 13 inches, literally the biggest glove you're allowed to use." -- Harrison Bader, on his mitt, which touched but couldn't haul in Thames' home run

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Pham's line drive shot in the ninth was originally ruled a double after it caromed off a railing atop the left-field wall and back onto the field. The call was overturned after a 3-minute, 18-second review, which determined the ball had cleared the wall.

Video: MIL@STL: Pham rocks solo homer after review

GYORKO NEARS RETURN
Injured infielder Jedd Gyorko didn't travel with the team to Cincinnati after the game. He flew south, headed for the club's training complex in Florida, where he'll begin a rehab assignment in the coming days. Sidelined since April 3 due to a right hamstring strain, Gyorko resumed baseball activities earlier this week. He took on-field batting practice Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday participated in a wide-ranging infield workout that included agility drills.

WHAT'S NEXT
The Cardinals continue their NL Central-heavy early schedule when they embark on a seven-game road trip to face the Reds and Cubs. Michael Wacha (1-1, 5.59) gets the nod for Thursday's opener of a four-game series at Great American Ball Park, set for 5:40 pm CT. Wacha battled through tough weather and command issues to earn his first win of the season in his last start.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Adam Wainwright