Workload a work-in-progress for Wainwright

Ace coming back from offseason elbow surgery

Workload a work-in-progress for Wainwright

JUPITER, Fla. -- Fitting, given his status as the leader of the staff, Adam Wainwright delivered the first pitch of the Cardinals' first official workout on Friday. He declared himself to be "exactly where I always am at this point in Spring Training" afterward, a positive sign for anyone still wondering whether the ace has recovered fully from offseason elbow surgery.

The question now is how the Cardinals will ensure he stays that way.

General manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny have maintained that some modifications to Wainwright's workload will be needed to increase the chances of him staying strong and healthy into October. Wainwright, while certainly seeking the same end, doesn't necessarily see it achieved through the same means.

Outlook: Wainwright, SP, STL

"I just know when I'm feeling healthy and feeling good, I don't want to be watching the team," Wainwright said, responding to a question about the potential of skipping periodic starts. "I want to be playing. I want to be competing. I'm getting paid to play every five days as it is, not every day. If I'm skipping my one every five days, good Lord, what am I getting paid for?

"I want to help this team. I want to make our fans proud."

The Cardinals aren't insistent that Wainwright miss a start or two in an effort to reduce his innings, but that scenario has been discussed. They've also talked about having Wainwright throw less in spring, hopeful that pitches not used now can be pitches thrown later in the year. All this brainstorming comes on the heels of watching Wainwright shoulder 519 2/3 innings -- 276 2/3 in 2013, 243 in 2014, including postseason totals -- over the past two years.

No starting pitcher has thrown more.

"I think we just have to be conservative and smart with him," Mozeliak said. "When people ask me about Wainwright right now, I sort of think about the 220 [or more] innings a year over the last three years and how we can manage that with so much pitching over those years and how to protect him.

"What we want is for him to have a healthy year. Our way of gauging that will be in how he feels, and we'll make adjustments from there."

Right now, Wainwright insists he feels great. He began throwing a month ago and has now thrown off the mound close to a half dozen times. In addition to conditioning his arm for the season ahead, he's also spending time tinkering with his cutter -- manipulating the pitch to have different action depending on his grip.

He made five starts last spring and described that as an ideal number for him. He said he would also be open to making only four if the Cardinals wanted to make that adjustment.

"Whatever it ends up being is going to be fine," Wainwright said. "It's going to work out. As long as we're talking about limiting starts now and not in the regular season, that's fine."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.