St. Louis Cardinals

With Wainwright on 60-day DL, we may have seen the end of a great Cardinals career

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright sits in the dugout after working during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Tuesday, April 4, 2017, in St. Louis.
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright sits in the dugout after working during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Tuesday, April 4, 2017, in St. Louis. AP

It's so easy to root for Adam Wainwright.

He's been a workhorse through some of the most successful years in the St. Louis Cardinals' glorious history, averaging 206 innings and 16 victories over a 13-year career.

Waino has pitched through six postseasons, freezing the likes of Carlos Beltran with that nasty hook, and pumping his fists and roaring with competitive fury after every big out.

Then he'd slip back into his alter ego — the smiling, laughing, sometimes goofy Uncle Charlie, who relishes his role as clubhouse mentor and gives as much effort to his various pet causes as he does to the Birds on the Bat.

Wainwright has been a perfect fit for a baseball city like St. Louis, which likes its heroes with a blue collar and a white hat.

And because we love to root for him, we don't ever want to doubt him.

But it's hard to see a way forward for Wainwright as a player.

The Cardinals on Thursday moved him to the 60-day disabled list. He was at Busch Stadium on Thursday prior to his Cardinals' series opener with the Philadelphia Phillies, but he somberly and politely deferred comment until he know more about the prognosis on his sore and swollen right elbow.

Let's be as honest as we hope Uncle Charlie can be with himself: This looks a lot like the end of a great career.

Wainwright has made four starts this season, just once lasting more than five innings, while twice getting pulled in the fourth. In his last start, he threw 79 pitches in 2 1/3 innings, walking six and allowing three San Diego hits along the way.

Meanwhile, this is his third trip to DL already this season, his second because of that balky elbow he thought was fixed with offseason surgery.

Is this really going to get any better? Doubtful.

The truth is, Wainwright hasn't been the same since a cool April night in 2015, when he stumbled out of the batter's box at Milwaukee's Miller Park with a torn Achilles tendon.

He had won 20 games with a 2.38 ERA just the season before. But in 64 games since the injury, he has a 4.76 ERA and averages just 5 1/3 innings per start.

He pitched through the elbow pain all of last season and, though he won 12 games, posted career highs in ERA (5.11) and WHIP (1.500).

Doubt became part of the conversation among even his most loyal fans, many of whom were vocal that the Cardinals should sign a big-name starter like Jake Arrieta to pick up Wainwright's slack.

Wainwright heard the whispers and admitted that some came from within his own bruised psyche.

"I don't want to be not great at this game," he said.

There's already plenty of greatness behind Wainwright. He has two World Series rings, two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger Award, has pitched in three All-Star Games and finished four times in top three of the National League Cy Young voting. There's a Cardinal red blazer waiting for him.

But Wainwright arrived at spring training with a new determination to complete the terms of a five-year, $97.5 million contract that will expire at the end of this season.

So on his first day in Jupiter, Wainwright gathered the media to make an announcement: He was not going to discuss retirement or the end of his contract for the remainder of the season. Baseball, from that point forward, was going to be a game-by-game proposition, with no energy wasted on things beyond what was immediately in front of him.

Finally, he promised that when the time comes to move on from the field of play, he will do so on his own terms.

He'll be 37 by the season's end, the contract will have come full term, his elbow has sent him to the DL twice and the Cardinals are thick with young arms ready for prime time.

There's nothing left for Wainwright to prove. Of that, there is no doubt.

Todd Eschman is sports editor of the Belleville News-Democrat. He can be reached at teschman@bnd.com or 618-239-2540.
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