First game: 5 2/3 innings pitched, four hits, three earned runs, one home run. Second game: three innings pitched, seven hits, eight earned runs, two homers. Third game: five innings pitched, seven hits, four earned runs, two homers.
We know that his velocity is down from what it was in 2010 and before, as was pointed out on Twitter last Friday.
And we also know this date: Feb. 28, 2011 — when Wainwright had Tommy John surgery.
After a successful spring training, were the expectations for him too high?
It takes time to recover and rehab from this elbow surgery, obviously. Will Carroll wrote in Sports Illustrated last March that “while most still quote the 12-18 month time frame after reconstruction, the fact is that using modern techniques and rehab has the real recovery period down to 9-12 months.” Okay, but does rehab and real recovery mean success? Even with the advances in surgical techniques and rehab, the success is not guaranteed. According to Eric Rosenhek, it’s 85 to 92 percent in elite pitchers.
Not to scare anyone with those numbers and suggest Wainwright will fall into that category. But all of this is a build-up to say maybe the Cardinals would be better served to take the same approach they did 12 years ago with Matt Morris when he was returning from Tommy John surgery also. Let Waino return to the bullpen.
That was my thought last Thursday as I was driving back to work after dashing home for lunch to catch a few innings of the Cardinals-Reds game. The last play I saw on TV was the homer Wainwright gave up to Brandon Phillips. That meant I heard the home run to Ryan Ludwick, two batters later, on the radio — and immediately thought of Matt Morris.
Or, specifically, his 2000 season. It was a long time ago, obviously. So many years ago that it was my first season as a Cardinals fan, and one that I followed mostly via radio since I hadn’t yet invested in DirecTV. I had to check with my friend Michael, a life-long Cardinals fan, to make sure I was remembering correctly about Morris pitching in relief. And I was.
Morris injured his elbow during spring training 1999 and underwent Tommy John surgery on April 13, missing that entire season. He next pitched in the majors on May 30, 2000, and picked up a save in a three-inning appearance to close out the Cards 6-1 win over the Giants. He appeared in 31 games that season, finishing with a record of 3-3 with four saves. More importantly, perhaps, he pitched only 53 innings as he regained strength.
And remember how he did the next year? It was his best season in the majors as he compiled a 22-8 record, was an All-Star and finished third in Cy Young voting.
Back to Wainwright: now, granted, every pitcher — and every pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery — is different. What worked for Matt Morris won’t necessarily work for Adam Wainwright. But we know that Wainwright can pitch successfully in relief, just as we know he can as a starter. So why shouldn’t the Cardinals take some of the pressure off, gain velocity and (hopefully) work his way back to the Waino of before? With Lance Lynn in the starting rotation, another good right-handed reliever would be welcome.
Maybe Wainwright will go out tomorrow night at Wrigley Field and suddenly look like his old self again, so all the worrying will have been for nothing. Or maybe he won’t. And it’s the big picture that’s most important — what will serve Adam Wainwright best in the long run?
It just might be pitching out of the bullpen in 2012.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.