ST. LOUIS -- There is a two-inch window, between where Adam Wainwright has always released the baseball and where he must now, and therein lies the difference between prosperity and pain.If Wainwright dips down to the bottom of it, a change imperceptible, he says, to the naked eye, his elbow
ST. LOUIS -- There is a two-inch window, between where Adam Wainwright has always released the baseball and where he must now, and therein lies the difference between prosperity and pain.
If Wainwright dips down to the bottom of it, a change imperceptible, he says, to the naked eye, his elbow will be fine. If he goes back "up top," like he did most of his life, like he did in his lousy season debut, then it'll hurt. Then the bone bruises that derailed his 2017 season will return, the first signs of which were what landed him on the 10-day disabled list on Sunday, after Wainwright felt a familiar twinge in his elbow.
Wainwright described the injury as precautionary, saying he knows what he needs to do to keep the pain from persisting.
"I took the route of cutting this off before it got like it did last year," Wainwright said. "If you're concerned whether I make 30 or 31 starts, be very concerned. If you're concerned whether I make 30 or 10, don't be."
Slowed by elbow issues of varying degrees over the course of his 13-year career, Wainwright most recently required surgery last October to remove cartilage and alleviate two bone bruises. He underwent the same arthroscopic procedure following the 2014 season, and missed all of '11 due to Tommy John surgery.
Wainwright needed six weeks of recovery from the most recent procedure, after elbow pain limited his 2017 season to 23 starts. When on the mound, the injury starkly affected his velocity and effectiveness. Wainwright went 12-5 with a career-worst 5.11 ERA. He compiled a 1-2 record with a 3.45 ERA over his first three starts this season, after a full spring absent of elbow pain.
Wainwright spent much of camp experimenting with various arm angles and slots, hoping to add deception to his delivery as much as health. He says a few slips back into old habits retriggered the painful swelling.
"The problem was, the first game I came out and I was trying to heave the ball from that top spot. Now I'm kinda feeling the effect of that," Wainwright said. "I have no cartilage now. I have what could be a bone bruise now, if I let it continue. I'm not going to let it continue."
Wainwright said he anticipated the pain coming after his season debut, when he lasted 3 2/3 innings against the D-backs on April 5. But he didn't feel it spark up again until last Tuesday, toward the end of his gutsy five-inning start against the Cubs. Back in the Busch Stadium bullpen this weekend, Wainwright felt it again.
"Obviously concerned with the feeling in his arm," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "In his bullpen, something just wasn't right."
That prompted the Cardinals to place him on the DL, when they recalled right-hander John Brebbia in a corresponding move. The club opted to move Luke Weaver up to start in Wainwright's place on Tuesday, instead of promoting No. 2 prospect Jack Flaherty.
Weaver and the rest of the rotation can line up on regular rest thanks to Monday's off-day, meaning the Cardinals don't need a starter until Saturday against the Pirates. Flaherty is a candidate to start that game, though his schedule at Triple-A Memphis would need to be adjusted.
Flaherty started in Wainwright's place earlier this month in Milwaukee, after the veteran strained his left hamstring. He struck out nine over five innings against the Brewers, then went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA over three starts at Memphis. Club officials routinely characterized the 22-year-old Flaherty as its first option should the starting rotation spring a leak.
Pham sits again
The Cardinals continue to be cautious with center fielder Tommy Pham, who sat for the third time in four games on Sunday due to a minor groin injury. The club hopes he can return to the lineup following Monday's off-day.
Earth day initiatives
All across Major League Baseball, teams are participating in a wide variety of season-long initiatives to promote sustainability. Many of those came into focus on Sunday's Earth Day.
The Cardinals' role in these efforts is twofold. Busch Stadium is one of 11 MLB ballparks that operates its own garden or farm, all of which is utilized to source food for concession stands and restaurants. In addition to providing food, the Busch Stadium garden also serves as a teaching tool to inform the public about the importance of its local environment, a ballpark tour highlight and as a fan-gathering spot throughout a game.
The Cardinals are also one of nine clubs to utilize solar power at their ballpark. The club will increase its commitment to green power by approximately 12,000 REC (Renewable energy certificate) in 2018, enough to offset all of its gameday energy usage for the entire season.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com.