JUPITER, Fla. -- By his own judgment, Adam Wainwright hit his location about half the time Thursday, during his spring debut against the Twins. Half the time, he missed. Not terrible for a first outing, but Wainwright called it "not nearly good enough."Simply put, the most celebrated Cardinals pitcher of
JUPITER, Fla. -- By his own judgment, Adam Wainwright hit his location about half the time Thursday, during his spring debut against the Twins. Half the time, he missed. Not terrible for a first outing, but Wainwright called it "not nearly good enough."
Simply put, the most celebrated Cardinals pitcher of the past decade has a smaller margin for error than ever. And Wainwright knows it. The reminders are there: On his driver's license, in his manager's words, from the radar gun. None of them has curbed Wainwright's belief that he can reach his past level of success. Yet Wainwright knows that if he's going to get there -- at age 36, coming off elbow surgery -- then he must redefine the type of pitcher he is.
"I'm working on a few different wrinkles," Wainwright said. "A few different things I think are going to help me."
To the untrained eye, they may have been easy to miss Thursday. Wainwright needed 47 pitches to battle through two innings, allowing two hits and walking three in a game the Cardinals and Twins would end tied, 3-3. But squint and see the two-seam fastball he ran back over the inside corner to freeze Kennys Vargas in the first. Or the heater he elevated to Zack Granite with two on in the second. Both helped Wainwright wiggle out of trouble, and both reflected a focus of his spring -- working his fastball more at the top of the strike zone and above, no matter what speed or spin rate it's coming in with.
On that front, Wainwright's fastball registered 90 mph or above on the Roger Dean scoreboard several times, topping out at 91 mph. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he wasn't concerned about velocity this early in spring, comparing Wainwright favorably to Bartolo Colon, whose reinvention from fireballer to dart thrower has significantly extended his career. Wainwright's fastball velocity dipped into the mid-80s last season, which he finished with a career-worst 5.11 ERA. He required elbow surgery afterwards.
"News flash, I was hurt last year," Wainwright said. "I was throwing very differently than I will throw this year."
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That will include more fastballs up -- no different from what new pitching coach Mike Maddux is encouraging many of his hurlers to throw. Wainwright will also experiment with his arm slot, shake up his pitch sequencing and randomize his delivery times. Don't be surprised to see him drop his arm down during starts this spring, not unlike Dodgers starter Rich Hill.
Wainwright approached Maddux early in camp with the idea. He thinks a little added deception, at this point, could go a long way.
"He has a really good idea of how he can change his look, with arm slot, with tilt, angle. But it all comes down to location," Matheny said. "He has to be spot on."
Maddux added: "The hitters will let us know if it's a viable method."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.