Wainwright's role in flux after tepid return

September 24th, 2017

PITTSBURGH -- 's return to the mound on Saturday may have produced more questions than answers, as he once again featured a fastball with waning velocity and hinted that he continues to pitch compromised.

Wainwright scattered three hits and walked one while allowing a run in his two-inning relief appearance. It marked Wainwright's first outing since Aug. 17, when he lasted three innings in a start at PNC Park. The next day, Wainwright was diagnosed with a right elbow impingement.

The 36-year-old right-hander described Saturday's appearance as "certainly better than a month ago," but otherwise offered a tepid assessment of his repertoire. Asked how much discomfort he is pitching through, Wainwright responded: "We'll talk about that after the season."

It was a telling response from a veteran starter who rarely sidesteps questions.

Telling, too, was that Wainwright's fastball velocity did not tick up as high as he expected. After a series of bullpen sessions to wrap up his rehab work, Wainwright said he suspected he was hitting at least 90 mph on the radar gun. However, none of the 31 pitches he threw on Saturday registered that hard.

Wainwright reached 89 mph with his fastball three times, topping out at 89.2 mph. Another four pitches hit 88 mph. In his final two starts before going on the disabled list, Wainwright hit a max velocity of 88.8 mph.

"Velocity doesn't tell the whole story, but it's something we look at, for sure," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny acknowledged.

Added Wainwright: "At this point in the season, I'm sort of forced to go with what I've got. I keep showing up expecting [it]. I think if I would have really wanted to, I could have gotten it over 90 [mph], but not with the sort of command that I would have wanted. It's not perfect or ideal, obviously. But it's what we've got at this point in the season. I just need some time, which is not what we have."

Which, then, begs the question of how Wainwright will fit into the mix for the Cardinals over these final regular-season games. The club has already stated that it won't be in the rotation, even though the Cards have a starting spot currently in flux. And it seems likely that Wainwright's appearances out of the bullpen will be earmarked for lower-leverage situations.

Once the season ends, a decision will be made as to whether Wainwright will require a surgical procedure to address any lingering issues with his elbow. He is under contract for one more season and set to make $19.5 million in 2018.

Worth noting

• Matchups for the Cardinals' upcoming four-game series against the Cubs have been set as follows: vs. on Monday; vs. on Tuesday; vs. on Wednesday; and vs. on Thursday. Wednesday's game time has been changed to 6:08 p.m. CT to accommodate an ESPN telecast.

• Cardinals rookies participated in the team's annual dress-up day on Sunday. After leaving the team hotel in costume, the group stopped at a local coffee shop, then walked the rest of the way to PNC Park, where they delivered drinks to the veterans.