St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright had just finished off seven scoreless innings -- at Coors Field of all places -- last Saturday. He had a smile on his face and an "I told you so" look in his eyes.Sidelined four starts into the 2015 season by a torn left Achilles
St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright had just finished off seven scoreless innings -- at Coors Field of all places -- last Saturday. He had a smile on his face and an "I told you so" look in his eyes.
Sidelined four starts into the 2015 season by a torn left Achilles and having put together in '16 what many would consider a decent season for a veteran pitcher in his mid-30s, Wainwright wants it to be clear that good isn't good enough for him.
It never has been. It never will be. End of discussion.
"No matter how many times I keep telling people I'm sick and tired of hearing, 'He's not what he once was,' I have to prove it," Wainwright said. "You can say it all day long, but unless you go out and prove it, it doesn't really matter, does it? I'm working on shutting those people up."
In the meantime, three months shy of his 36th birthday, Wainwright is pitching like he did in his younger days, before the Achilles injury, back when he finishing among the top three in National League Cy Young Award voting in four seasons and earning three NL All-Star selections.
Wainwright will go into his Thursday start against the Dodgers having won his past three starts -- against the Cubs and Giants at Busch Stadium and against the Rockies in the mile-high world of Colorado -- having won all three games and allowing just one earned run in 20 1/3 innings.
That's vintage Wainwright. That's the right-hander who led the NL in victories with 19 in 2009 and '13 and added 20-win seasons to his resume in '10 and '14. That's the Wainwright who had never had an ERA in the 4.00 range until a year ago, coming off the injury, when he went 13-9 with a 4.62 ERA and suddenly heard people talking about how he was still a contributor.
What those people don't understand is Wainwright isn't going to be a just a contributor.
"I'm not trying to reinvent myself," he said. "I'm trying to reclaim the form I was years ago. … People are ready for me to be old and over the hill and change everything I'm going to do out there, throwing knuckleballs, but it ain't going to happen.
"I'm going to surprise the world these next couple of years."
Wainwright has given the world a preview of what's to come in those past three starts. There were seven scoreless innings against the defending World Series champion Cubs. Then came 6 1/3 innings, in which Wainwright allowed one run to the Giants. And then came a continuation of his career-long mastery at Coors Field, in a game in which he allowed three hits and a walk in seven scoreless innings against the Rockies.
"That," said Wainwright, "is how I expect to pitch. I expect to be good when I go out there, and when I am good, it is not a surprise. I'm going to keep building off [the past three starts]."
When the day comes that Wainwright doesn't pitch like those three games on a regular basis, it will be time, he said, to move on in life.
"I've heard a lot of chatter from the media, from fans, ready for me to either retire or be a fifth starter, and I'm not going to do that," he said. "I'm either going to be very good or I'm going to go home."
"I love competing, and as long as I feel every time I take the mound I can get people out, win the game and go deep in the game, I am going to keep doing it. I am having fun. This game is fun. Baseball is fun. Pitching is fun. Getting Major League hitters out is fun. I am having to do things a little bit differently in my preparation to get back out there on the mound. But on the mound, I feel like I'm going to be dominant."
It's what Chris Carpenter taught Wainwright when he came to the Cardinals as a prime prospect from the pitching-right Braves.
"When I was a whippersnapper with the Braves, I was too naïve to really pay attention and learn from those guys," Wainwright said. "I wish I could go back and be a sponge and suck up all the great knowledge they had, but I can't. But the lessons I learned in the Cardinals' organization, from being around Chris Carpenter and some of the older veterans on the Cardinals, helped place me where I am today."
And it is a knowledge Wainwright loves to share with the likes of Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Carlos Martinez -- three members of the rotation who came up through the Cards' system -- along with offseason addition Mike Leake.
"These guys are so talented," said Wainwright. "We're all trying to compete. We all want to be the best. There are five starters on this team, and they each think they are going to be the best. It drives us to work harder. It drives us to pay attention and focus. That's how a good team operates."
It's realizing, like Wainwright does, that being good isn't good enough.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.