St. Louis Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright has always been one of the best big game pitchers in baseball. Even dating back to his days as a rookie out of the bullpen, Wainwright has never let a big moment get to him. Facing Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded, 2 outs, and a trip to the World Series on the line? That’s no big deal for Wainwright, just unleash the nastiest curveball you can possible throw. How about taking on a red-hot Giants lineup with your team staring down the possibility of a 3-1 hole? No big deal, just throw 7 dominant innings.
Wainwright’s always been a big game pitcher, which made his struggles in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals a season ago all the more puzzling. In 2 separate starts the Nationals were able to chase Wainwright from the game in the early going as they piled up 13 hits, 3 homers, and 7 total runs in just 8 innings against the Cards’ ace.
Well, on Tuesday evening Adam Wainwright went out and got his revenge. The right-hander thoroughly dominated the Nationals’ lineup, throwing 8.1 breezy innings, allowing 5 hits and 1 walk to go along with 9 strikeouts. He blew through the Nationals lineup with ease, using his fastball to get ahead of hitters before finishing them off with his trademark biting curveball.
Wainwright went to his change just once all game, finally throwing the breaking ball in the 9th inning to Adam LaRoche, as he instead opted to focus on giving Nationals’ hitters a steady diet of upstairs fastballs. Those fastballs were located on a dime most of the night as well, as Wainwright painted corner after corner against the Nats, displaying the impeccable control he’s had all April long.
In fact, that lone walk Wainwright allowed was the first free pass he’d given up in 34.2 innings of work this season and even then it was an intelligent move.The Nationals were finally threatening to score in the 6th inning after a pair of singles gave them 2 runners on with 2 outs and Bryce Harper at the plate. Harper has been the hottest hitter in baseball this side of Justin Upton, popping 7 homers already this season to go along with a .366 average, and after falling behind 3-1 in the count Wainwright decided he wasn’t going to give in, walking Harper.
“I wasn’t going to go the whole season without walking someone,” Wainwright said. “I wanted to let the game dictate when that was OK to do. Right there, I thought that pitching him tough, even though I’m loading the bases for a tough hitter in LaRoche, Bryce Harper can hurt you in a lot of different ways.”
The move paid off big time as the next hitter up, Adam LaRoche, was fanned easily on a 94 mph heater by Waino to end the inning. Those strikeouts have been coming fast and frequently this season. The Cardinals ace has already piled up 37 strikeouts to go along with just 1 walk and that’s something you just don’t see every
This is exactly the type of return the Cardinals were hoping to get when they made a 5 year/$97.5 million dollar investment in Wainwright just a month ago. The deal carried a fair bit of risk for the Cardinals at the time thanks to Wainwright’s 14-13 record and 3.94 ERA from a year ago, as well as the fact that he’s just 2 years removed from Tommy John surgery. But most of those concerns have been alleviated thus far and in fact, that contract is starting to look like a bargain when you compare it to the deals handed out to guys like Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander.
Wainwright”s velocity is up a couple ticks from a season ago and his curveball is showing the type of drop and movement that it possessed pre-Tommy John. As long as that remains the case Wainwright will continue to dominate hitters night in and night out.