knee-buckling curveball that froze MVP candidate Carlos Beltran for the final
strike of the National League Championship Series and a mid-90s fastball that
overmatched the Tigers in the World Series, Cardinals righthander Adam
Wainwright also has plenty of humility. When asked last week about the
difference between last spring and this one, he replied, "Last year you
could pick maybe two people off the street that knew who I was, and that was
probably my mom and my brother."
dominated October as a closer (four saves, no runs, 15 strikeouts in 9 2/3
innings), but now the Cardinals are returning him to a starting role (the job
he held for 135 of his 137 minor league appearances). Long on relievers but
short on starters in the wake of the free-agent departures of Jeff Suppan, Jeff
Weaver and Jason Marquis, the Cardinals felt they had little choice. "He
should develop into a top-of-the-line starter," says St. Louis G.M. Walt
Jocketty, whose desperation for rotation help may yet prompt him to trade for a
veteran such as the Phillies' Jon Lieber, the Yankees' Carl Pavano or the
Dodgers' Brad Penny.
Last spring was a
watershed for Wainwright, who wondered whether he had the mental toughness to
play pro ball after he was cut from the U.S. Olympic qualifying team in 2003.
For guidance he turned to '05 Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter, who had
his own doubts while recovering from shoulder injuries that forced him to miss
all of '03. "I told myself," says Wainwright, "I am not going back
to the minor leagues."
course, did not. He steadily worked his way from middle man to setup man to
closer to postseason hero. Last week he allowed himself the small indulgence of
recalling his ninth inning closeout of the Mets to clinch the NLCS. "Be
glad to," he said, smiling. "The first two batters, I was a mess. I let
myself think what would happen if I didn't get the job done. That was the first
time I did that all year. Every fan at Shea Stadium was crushing me. All year I
never heard the crowd. But I could hear them this time, and they were letting
me have it." After the first two Mets got hits, Wainwright told himself,
Enough is enough. "And when Beltran came up," he says, "I knew I
was going to get the job done. I said to myself, 'I am going to throw this
curveball like it's the best curveball I ever threw in my life.'"
Now he's ready to
take on a new challenge, with the old outlook.
BP's research indicates that a typical pitcher can expect a 25% jump in his ERA
when he makes the transition from the bullpen to the rotation. Wainwright,
though, can probably handle the switch as well as anyone. He's only one year
removed from being a starter in the minors, his curve is a pitch that should
hold up well with repeated use, and he's got an excellent defense behind him to
help keep his pitch counts down. But some deterioration in his numbers--and
perhaps a stint on the DL as he adjusts to the higher workload--is
BOTTOM LINE: PECOTA projects a 9--8 record, and a 3.88 ERA in 25 starts.