Wainwright one step closer to return

Cards ace is expected to throw live BP on Sunday

Wainwright one step closer to return

JUPITER, Fla. -- With all having gone well in a high-intensity bullpen session on Thursday, Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright is expected to face hitters the next time he takes the mound.

It will be his own teammates stepping in against him when he throws live batting practice on Sunday. But that step alone moves Wainwright closer to being ready for Grapefruit League action. He is unsure whether he'll go through the live BP exercise once or twice before being cleared for his first spring start.

"It was a good bullpen," Wainwright said after throwing about 50 pitches. "I stepped up the intensity and velocity of all my pitches and threw [them] with greater conviction. I felt very good coming out of it. I felt very good doing it. [It's] a good step."

Wainwright increased the intensity by imitating game rhythm. He went through his typical warmup and then simulated an inning break with a brief stop in the middle of his session.

In addition to throwing his second bullpen session since a St. Louis-area specialist diagnosed him with an abdominal strain, Wainwright went through a series of physical tests on Thursday that revealed recent improvement in his abdominal area.

Though still not cleared to run, Wainwright said he expects to begin fielding drills soon and has already increased his work in the weight room.

"Just a good day all around," Wainwright said.

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