Adam Wainwright approached his final start of Spring Training last week with the intent of finishing it with a feel for all of his pitches. What he got, in addition to that, was plenty of practice pitching out of the stretch. It was practice that proved fruitful on Opening Night at Wrigley Field.
Wainwright tossed the first six innings of the Cardinals' 3-0 win over the Cubs on Sunday, but had to navigate around trouble throughout much of it. He had allowed the leadoff batter to reach in five of six innings in that final Grapefruit League start. In this one, it happened four times.
"I think if you pitched against that team every day and let the leadoff guy get on base at least three times, I think you're going to have a hard time," said Wainwright, who lowered his Opening Day career ERA as a starter to 1.78. "They were making it very tough on me."
He was also making it tough on himself. Three of the four leadoff batters who reached doubled, and each advanced to third base. From there, Wainwright never budged. He kept the Cubs hitless in 11 chances with runners in scoring position, with six of those outs coming via strikeouts, something that Wainwright doesn't typically lean so heavily on.
"We made him work at times. We had some chances, but that's what makes him so good," opposing starter Jon Lester said. "He's able to combat that and come back and make good pitches."
Wainwright was able to circumvent trouble early without relying much on his bread-and-butter curveball. Though the pitch elicited a few early swing and misses, Wainwright didn't throw it as a strike until the third.
His fastball command was slow to come, as well. And the changeup that he flashed throughout spring was kept mostly in his back pocket. The pitches improved as he went, though, and Wainwright wrapped up the 101-pitch effort by retiring 12 of the final 14 batters he faced.
"It was so cold compared to Jupiter, Florida," Wainwright said. "It took me a while to find my fingertips and really find my release point. As the game wore on, I was not going to just bag it. It was too important a pitch for me. I stayed confident that I was going to make the adjustment, and eventually I started raising my sights a little bit and making better pitches with it."
Now 9-1 with a 3.30 ERA in 20 career appearances (15 starts) at Wrigley Field, Wainwright also has the distinction of leading the Cardinals to consecutive Opening Day shutouts for the first time in franchise history.
"I was real impressed with how Waino went about his business and set the tone," manager Mike Matheny said. "There are just guys like that who, when they get into tough situations in big games, they're able to make the big pitch when they need to."