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Adam Wainwright Pushes the Panic Back

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Okay, so the Cardinals lost last night. That sucked. Big time. In fact, it was the second night in a row they lost 3-2 in walkoff fashion to the Chicago Cubs. It was a very, very bad night in a lot of ways. 

We don't feel good about Jason Motte right now walking hitters, Fernando Salas hasn't looked great yet this year, and Marc Rzepczynski did the unthinkable last night allowing a home run to a left-handed hitter. The bullpen looks creaky. Not 2011 creaky, which was more like 'on fire' than creaky when you get right down to it, but still. Iffy. Worrisome. Creaky. 

Perhaps even more frustrating, the Cardinals' vaunted offense has seemingly gone to sleep in Wrigley Field, going quiet into a pair of good nights, as it were, after trouncing opponents left and right through the first two weeks of the season. I'll give you Matt Garza; there are times when an elite pitcher like that is just going to get you, and that's all there is to it. But Jeff Samardzija? That's much more upsetting. 

However, there was one bright spot on the evening, and it was a doozy. One bright spot that should make any Cardinal fan feel pretty good about the night, even with all the heartbreak it entailed. Adam Wainwright looked good last night. And that could end up making a huge difference. 

Wainwright's first three outings of the year were, well, pretty brutal. He threw 13.2 innings total between the three starts, allowed 18 hits and 15 earned runs for an unsightly 9.88 ERA. Those are not Adam Wainwright numbers. Not in the slightest. Or at least not the Adam Wainwright we became so accustomed to seeing before this season, back when he had an elbow not yet Tommy John'd. 

More worrisome than the raw numbers was just the way Wainwright looked. His velocity was down, his pitches were flat, and he himself seemed uncomfortable with the way his arm felt. Most sensibly decided he was just suffering through a brief dead arm period, not at all uncommon with rehabbing pitchers, but you could hear the whispers here and there. It wasn't dead arm, those whispers went, Adam Wainwright was Not Right. Not Right, with very audible capital letters. You look at a pitcher who's headed for some major surgery, or is coming back from injury before he's physically ready, and you say that guy just looks...Not Right. You know what I'm talking about. 

Last night, though, Wainwright looked like an almost entirely different pitcher. The crispness was back, if not his full customary command. The fastball was maybe a touch quicker, but more importantly it just looked different. The movement was there; this no longer looked like the flat, borderline meatball pitch Adam had been working with early in the season. This was an Adam Wainwright fastball. No more, but certainly no less. 

His secondary pitches were much the same as his fastball. They weren't back all the way, necessarily, or at least not top quality every single pitch, but at least they looked familiar. They looked like Adam Wainwright was throwing them. 

The final line for the evening looked oh-so Adam Wainwright, too: 6.0 innings, 6 hits, one walk, one run, earned, and 7 strikeouts. Those are the kind of numbers you expect to see from your ace and perennial Cy Young award contender. 

Things aren't completely rosy for the Cardinals this morning; despite the hot offensive start and stellar pitching early there are mounting injury problems and a shaky -- ahem, excuse me, creaky -- bullpen to contend with. But one of the biggest question marks the Cards have been dealing with so far in 2012 looks like it may have been at least partially answered last night. Adam Wainwright looked like, well, Adam Wainwright. And as long as he does, that's one less thing to worry about. 


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