ST. LOUIS -- To anyone who has been willing to listen, Adam Wainwright is ready with bold assertions. The work he's doing, the hours he spends in daily rehab, it's not just to get him ready for a 2016 return. It's all being done, Wainwright says, with an eye on 2015.
Told in April that he needed season-ending surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles tendon, Wainwright has motored through his rehab in an attempt to defy his diagnosis. He wants to pitch again this year -- or, at least, make the Cardinals' decision not to use him an especially difficult one.
It would be, as general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged this week, a miracle rehab for Wainwright to even get to that point.
"You can't stop being who you are, right? I'm going to push as hard as I can without being silly," Wainwright said. "I'm going to push as hard as I can to try and get back for this team this season. If not, then I know at least I tried everything I could."
Wainwright sustained the injury coming out of the batter's box in an April 25 start against the Brewers, and he underwent surgery the following week. Doctors put the recovery time at nine to 12 months, which prompted everyone, except Wainwright, to close the door on this season.
The methodical rehab process began with weeks of immobility, where Wainwright's foot first rested in a protective boot and was later wrapped in a compression sock. Both are now gone, and that has allowed Wainwright to begin the process of getting into baseball shape. He recently resumed throwing, doing so from a flat-ground distance of 90 feet this week. If all continues on this pace, Wainwright will be throwing off the mound in September.
"Adam, as soon as he went down, the first conversation he had was about how he was going to beat the odds and be back," manager Mike Matheny said. "Then you'd see him out on the bench, and he won't just sit there and feel sorry for himself. He has a presence to him that makes a difference."
Wainwright spends about five hours a day deep in rehab work, and that stringent program keeps him from being able to join the club on road trips. He will, however, sneak away next weekend to meet the Cards in San Francisco for a few days. It will mark Wainwright's first time on the road since hobbling off the field at Miller Park.
How far Wainwright can push the next few weeks will bring clarity to his status. It could also add complexity to the Cardinals' postseason roster projections. Wainwright, if he can return, would almost certainly do so as a reliever, and not until October. He won't have sufficient time to build up arm strength for a starting role, nor do the Cards have any holes to fill in a rotation where all five starters have sub-3.00 season ERAs.
Perhaps this rehab push will lead to nothing more than improved preparation for 2016. In fact, Mozeliak has refrained from even thinking much about the potential of a Wainwright return, noting recently that he has "not had a deep dive [into] that [topic] with the medical staff at this point."
But until he's told his chances of throwing another meaningful pitch this year are at zero percent, Wainwright remains intent on being the exception.
"I think he's talking himself into the fact that no matter what they tell him, he's going to push," Matheny said. "And if it's humanly possible, he's going to do it."