Wainwright to miss 'several weeks' with groin strain

Cardinals' ace no longer the Opening Day starter as his season will begin on IL

March 23rd, 2023

JUPITER, Fla. -- , who was scheduled to begin his final MLB season as the Cardinals' Opening Day starter for a seventh time in his 18-year career, will instead open on the injured list after suffering a groin strain.

Manager Oliver Marmol confirmed Wainwright's injury on Thursday morning prior to the Cardinals' 1-1 tie with the Yankees in Grapefuit League action. Asked his level of concern about the groin injury, Marmol said the veteran pitcher is likely to miss “several weeks” after suffering the injury in the weight room on Tuesday prior to Team USA facing Japan in the World Baseball Classic championship game.

Wainwright, 41, expressed disappointment that he will open the season on the IL and will be unavailable to pitch on March 30 at Busch Stadium against the Blue Jays.

“That sucks a little bit, because I would have loved to pitch in front of the crowd on Opening Day for one more time,” Wainwright said. “My Opening Day will be a couple of weeks later. We’ll see when that is.”

Cardinals president John Mozeliak said the imaging done on Wainwright’s groin revealed a strain “between a 1 and a 2,” out of five grades and added, “that’s not surprising when you hear it’s a strain.” Mozeliak said the organization’s pitching depth, namely with camp standout , should help St. Louis withstand the loss of Wainwright over the next several weeks.

“Losing a starting pitcher any time during Spring Training is frustrating, but in the end, [Wainwright] can hopefully put himself in a position where it ends up being a positive for us,” Mozeliak said. “When you look at how [Woodford] pitched for us in spring, he was certainly deserving of a spot as well. It just shows you how competitive of a camp we were having. In the end, we feel like we’ll survive this, but it’s certainly disappointing.”

Wainwright said he suffered the injury while doing “split squats”; he was on his third set of the leg-strengthening exercise when he felt a strain in the groin. The truly upsetting part, Wainwright added, was that his legs had started feeling better than ever in recent days. A round of back spasms in early February had left him with weakness in his right leg, and it hampered his ability to push off the rubber when pitching.

“I knew it wasn’t great when it happened, because I’ve been through a few injuries before and I know what it feels like when you strain a muscle,” said Wainwright, who noted that he wore an electrical muscle stimulation machine under his USA uniform Tuesday in hopes of improving the injury. “I was hoping it wasn’t [serious]. … It could be much worse; it's just a strain and we’ll be out a few weeks.”

Marmol also confirmed that Wainwright was his pick to start on Opening Day for the Cardinals. The veteran right-hander is 3-2 with a no-decision in his previous six Opening Day starts. Last season, he threw six scoreless innings, allowed just five hits and struck out six in the Cards' win over the Pirates.

Marmol said the team will formulate plans for an Opening Day starter by Friday, when MLB will announce all 30 Opening Day starting pitchers. -- the team’s Opening Day starter in 2019 -- is the favorite to lead the Cardinals against Toronto. Mikolas, who pitched twice in relief for Team USA in the WBC, will start Friday’s Grapefruit League game against the Nats. The two-time All-Star would then have six days to prepare for a potential start in the March 30 opener.

“Luckily it’s just me that went down,” said Wainwright. “Jack [Flaherty] is back, Steven [Matz] is back, Jordan [Montgomery] is back and Miles [Mikolas] is back. And Woody deserves it because he pitched great this spring. I hope he gets that opportunity because he deserves it. Because when you pitch like he did, it always has a way of taking care of itself.”

Wainwright was 11-12 last season, the first full season he finished with a losing record in his career. The problem was a poor finish, when he went 2-4 with two no-decisions and a 6.69 ERA down the stretch. Wainwright dropped his final three decisions, including a 4 2/3-inning outing in which he surrendered six earned runs to the Pirates in the final regular-season game at Busch Stadium.

After not making the U.S. Olympic Qualifying Team in 2004, Wainwright was eager to pitch for Team USA in the WBC. He pitched well in his two outings, earning victories over Great Britain and Cuba. Wainwright said he took great delight in seeing 17 Cardinals play in the tournament.

“Man, I tell you what: Our organization is in a great spot,” Wainwright said. “I think we’re going to have a great season. We need to be in first place when they hand me the reins back over, and we’ll go from there. I really love our young fellows.”

Wainwright has 195 career wins -- all with the Cardinals. One of his stated goals for returning for this season was to try to top the 210 wins by Jesse Haines and move into second in franchise history behind only Bob Gibson (251). Wainwright teamed with catcher Yadier Molina in 2022 to set the NL/AL record for starts (328) and wins (213) among one battery. Wainwright has said he thinks that the starts record could potentially stand the test of time because of the durability and compatibility needed between one pitcher and catcher over a lengthy period of time.

Marmol said he thinks Wainwright will travel with the team back to St. Louis when it breaks training camp on Monday night. Wainwright will likely need a rehab stint before pitching again at the MLB level, the manager said.

“You don’t go back to zero [with conditioning], you don’t go back to where you left off either,” Marmol said. “So there will be some form of buildup to get him back to that 85-pitch mark or whatever the case may be. He’ll use his time appropriately. He’s done [a comeback from injury] before, and he’ll be in a good spot as soon as he returns.”