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Wainwright's confidence high despite struggles

Veteran right-hander says he's still competing to be among baseball's best
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Setbacks and struggles over the last two seasons appear to have done nothing to alter Adam Wainwright's expectations for himself.

While some are questioning his fit in the rotation and others jumping to conclusions about his future, Wainwright has zeroed in on the now. That means refraining from reflecting on the past and refusing to predict the future. The uncertainty that others may obsess about is out of sight and out of mind.

ST. LOUIS -- Setbacks and struggles over the last two seasons appear to have done nothing to alter Adam Wainwright's expectations for himself.

While some are questioning his fit in the rotation and others jumping to conclusions about his future, Wainwright has zeroed in on the now. That means refraining from reflecting on the past and refusing to predict the future. The uncertainty that others may obsess about is out of sight and out of mind.

"I just can't think that way," Wainwright said. "It doesn't do me any good to think that I'm fighting for a rotation spot. In my mind, I'm fighting to be the No. 1 pitcher in the game still. That's what I want to be. That's how I want to think of myself and my talent and my abilities.

"Now, I know that I have some things to prove because last year didn't go well, and I was injured during the second half of that year. [It] was ugly. I understand that. I get a lot of it. I also know that proving other people wrong is not as important as proving to myself that I can still be great."

Video: Adam Wainwright's Karaoke Challenge

From the outside, Wainwright may not get the benefit of the doubt that he once did because of how difficult the last two seasons have been. His 4.81 ERA since the start of 2016 ranks 59th among the 61 Major League starters with at least 300 innings pitched. During that stretch, Wainwright posted a 1.44 WHIP and has turned in just 26 quality starts in 56 appearances.

He's also dealt with injury, most recently to his right elbow. Offseason surgery went well, Wainwright said, and his rehab work continues without a hitch. But he hasn't yet tracked his velocity or tested his pitches against hitters. Both will be key indicators of whether there's another surge in performance looming.

"I'm just not ready to be mediocre again. I want to be great again," Wainwright said. "When I go out there and play catch every day, I made a pact with myself before I was a rookie, that I was going to play catch like it was the last day of the World Series, last pitch of the World Series, every time, and that is what I've continued to do."

Wainwright will turn 37 in August and his current contract will expire two months later. It will be then -- and not any earlier -- when Wainwright says he'll ponder what may be next.

"Listen, I can't be living in the past. I can't be living in the future anymore," he said. "Where I have to be is in the now, and I've got to get the most out of where I'm at right now, and we'll see what happens."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to her podcast.

St. Louis Cardinals, Adam Wainwright