Adam Wainwright neither showed nor felt discomfort when he threw a three-inning simulated game Monday morning.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ ace right-hander, returning from an abdominal strain, threw 50 pitches, many to Jon Jay, and declared himself on track for the season opener April 5 in Chicago.
The next step?
“A real (spring training) game is next,” Wainwright said. “Whenever that is, five days from now or six days. Whenever they tell me to pitch is when I’ll be pitching. ... From everybody I’ve talked to, I’ve passed all tests that need to be passed. We’ll just go from there.”
Wainwright will have time to make three starts before camp breaks, which is more than sufficient in his eyes for him to get the ball in the opener against the Cubs’ Jon Lester. Throwing 50 pitches in a simulated game, he said, is like two early spring training starts.
“In my mind, work-wise, today was very similar to a second start out there,” Wainwright said. “I’ve been building arm strength, arm strength, arm strength. So today, arm-wise, everything was great. I knew it was going to be fine. It’s just making sure, when you get (to) that next step, is everything going to be fine with my abdomen? It seemed to be great.”
Seeing Jay in the box stirred the competitive juices in Wainwright, whose performance was cheered by about 200 fans standing behind the backstop.
“Jon Jay is such a great big-league hitter. It’s always good to see him,” Wainwright said of the center fielder who is recovering from wrist surgery. “I was working on my changeup today and I threw him a good bit of them just to see his reaction, a good left-handed hitter like that, a good base hit-hitter. It’s good to see a big-league hitter’s natural reaction to your pitches.”
Wainwright froze minor-leaguer Patrick Wisdom with a fastball for a called strike three after fooling Wisdom with a big breaking ball on the previous delivery.
“I wanted to command my fastball better today,” Wainwright said. “My off-speed has been actually pretty good. When I’m spotting my fastball on both sides of the plate, it just makes my off-speed even better. I wanted to go out there and do that today before I got into a real game. I tried to treat it as real as possible, so today was a good day for me. I threw 50 pitches with a full warmup as well. It’s a good step.”
Wainwright enjoyed the applause. After the workout, he doffed his cap and bowed.
“I love it. I was feeding off that,” Wainwright said of the fan reception. “That made me feel special. I had kind of a crowd built up. Probably my wife called everybody and told them, ‘Hey, pump him up today and make sure you show up.’ She probably passed out tickets (for them) to come see it. Whatever it was, it was very appreciated.”
Slow start for Wong
By most accounts, second baseman Kolton Wong is ready to take off.
But ignition has been delayed in spring training as Wong began is batting just .111 (2-for-18) in eight games.
“We’re making it very clear to him that we’re not worried about (him),” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s not as much of a veteran as John Lackey and Adam Wainwright, but hopefully he’s got (enough) confidence in himself that it’s not all results-oriented. It’s tough for a guy that’s been around a while, let alone still a young player. He’s doing a lot of things right. He just has to trust that he’s fine.”
Wong batted .249 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs last year, then batted .241 (7-for-29) with three home runs and six RBIs in eight postseason games. Wong had game-winning home runs in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series against San Francisco.
“I don’t care who you are, what kind of contract you have, what kind of personal achievements you have, (failures) affect you and they hurt. It’s embarrassment, it’s frustration,” Matheny said. “It’s that balance of not being content with letting those (emotions) be like they are, but also realizing that if you’re going to be successful and get out of it as quick as you can, there has to be a level of self-confidence there that may exceed your experience. I hope that’s where Kolton is right now. He looks to be handling it much better than he did in the past. I’ve seen him take some really good at-bats.”
John Lackey, beginning his first full season in St. Louis, was dominant against Detroit in his spring-training debut Monday.
Lackey faced the minimum nine hitters in three innings, striking out four. Twenty-seven of his 37 pitches were in the strike zone.
“I like to try to work quick, especially working on the fastball early on in spring training,” Lackey said. “There’s not a whole lot of consequented sequences. We (Lackey and catcher Yadier Molina) were pretty much throwing it in there and working on the fastball location for the most part.
“I was really pleased with the fastball location for this early, and I felt like I had a little something on it. I think that’s going to get better. The slider was pretty good, the curveball wasn’t great. It needs some work. The changeup, I was about 50-50 on. There’s definitely somet things to work on. But the main goal of throwing fastballs, building arm strength and locating, that was pretty good today.”
Lackey drew up a spring-training plan that limited his number of starts. His hope is that a limited number of innings will keep him fresh into September and October. He will be on a once-every-five-days schedule for the rest of spring training.
“I’ll add a few more breaking balls in next time,” Lackey said. “But fastball location is where it all starts. That’s always the main goal every time you go out there. And keep the pitch count moving up. ... To start off feeling this good is a nice place to be.”
Lackey, 36, was 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts last season after the Cardinals acquired him from the Boston Red Sox. He will be part of a rotation that includes Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez or Jaime Garcia.