The St. Louis Cardinals have a sticky situation on their hands in the form of Adam Wainwright. Prior to Sunday’s matchup against the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals announced that the 36-year-old veteran had been placed on the 10-day disabled list with inflammation and soreness in his right elbow. This will be the second time in the young season that Wainwright will be shelved by injury, as he opened the season on the DL with hamstring soreness. After two injuries within a just a month, it’s easy to speculate that Wainwright’s age is a factor and that his durability has simply dipped because of it. But Wainwright, as he did in spring training, almost instantly fired back with a different reasoning behind his latest DL stint.
It didn’t take long for the veteran to take to Twitter to assure fans “all will be well in a few days”. And in an interview before Sunday’s game, Wainwright contended that his latest DL appearance is merely to prevent a performance falloff later in the season. He elaborated further, saying that he pitched through pain last year at certain points and that it eventually cost him the end of the season. And there’s no doubting that this is true, as Wainwright’s season was essentially over in mid-August. At that time, Wainwright described his injury as a “pinching sensation” in his elbow, and the effect of this pain on his performance was more than obvious. Down the stretch, Wainwright was barely hitting higher than 85 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball.
If this is an occurrence of the same elbow discomfort, as Wainwright has led everyone to believe, it comes as a bit of a surprise, as all questions about his velocity were put to rest after consistently hitting the low 90s on the gun in spring training and again after coming off the DL in the regular season. It’s impossible for us to know exactly what Wainwright was feeling in his 3 starts this season, but his performance certainly didn’t show any pain, as he kept his team in all three ballgames. But even if we accept that Wainwright’s elbow injury is insignificant enough for him to merely skip 1 or 2 starts in order to remain fresher later in the season, I’d still argue that this is a poor route and mentality for the Cardinals to take in terms of their handling of Wainwright and their dedication to winning.
Let’s face it. Adam Wainwright is not the pitcher he once was and likely never will be a Cy Young contender again. While this view may have seemed pessimistic a few years ago, I’d contend that it’s putting things lightly now. But the Cardinals faithful still love Wainwright, and it’s more than obvious that the organization does as well. And they absolutely should. Wainwright has arguably done more for the Cardinals than any pitcher since the great Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, and there’s no way they should ignore this. He deserves incredible respect, and, in my opinion, rightfully deserved such a locked spot in the rotation this past offseason and spring if healthy. But the key term here is “if healthy”. At some point there comes a time when an organization must step in and realize what’s best for the team in terms of putting the best product on the field that’s possible.
Right now, Adam Wainwright may not actually be the fifth-best starting pitcher in the organization, but the added burden of having to “rest” him to allow a chance of being able to pitch deeper into the season is simply too much baggage to still make him a more deserving rotation option than someone like Jack Flaherty, who is clearly ready to make the full-time jump to the big leagues. It’s extremely unlikely that the Cardinals will consider removing Wainwright from the rotation as long as he says he can still pitch, but things have reached a point where it’s become frustrating for even the most staunch Wainwright defenders like myself to accept seeing him bounce between the DL and the rotation (likely with no rehab appearances, if history repeats itself) and costing the team potential wins from a lack of command or consistency. But for now, it seems that the Cardinals will allow Wainwright another opportunity for rest and recovery and will hope for a different fate this time from big number 50.