For a pitcher who was told in late April that he would need a nine-to-12 month recovery from surgery, the prospect of returning to the mound within five months is quite remarkable.
"I thought there was a chance right from the beginning," Wainwright said. "I was at Bob Costas' charity event [shortly after surgery], and a guy looked me right in the eyes, a 50-year-old man, and said, 'I was back climbing mountains in five months after my surgery, so if you can't do it, you're a wuss.' I said, 'Dadgum. OK. All right.' I thought it was possible. Doctors give you these very safe numbers. They have to, to protect you and them. You can always shave off a couple of months if everything happens perfectly, and everything so far, luckily, has happened perfectly."
Wainwright is slated to throw a high-intensity bullpen session on Tuesday and then pitch in a simulated game by the weekend. That will give him an opportunity to see how hitters react to his pitches and how well he can play defense. If all goes well, the Cardinals would like to see him make at least one appearance out of the bullpen before the end of the regular season.
"I think I'd have a much higher confidence level to have him throw in-season before you put him on the [playoff] roster," general manager John Mozeliak said. "If you recall the last time he was in the bullpen, he was pretty good."
That was in 2006, when, as a rookie, he emerged as the team's closer late in the regular season and then saved four postseason games as the Cardinals captured a World Series championship.
With too little time to build up the arm strength to start, Wainwright's only option this fall would be to contribute as a reliever. He tried to do the same in 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery (which he had that February), but couldn't get back in time.
"It was totally different," Wainwright said of then and now. "The difference is my arm has felt great in this whole process. The question was, 'Can I get my legs back to where they need to be?' Now we're really close to that. Although I was saying that with a hint of belief with Tommy John, I 100-percent fully believed it during this process."
As for Mozeliak, who just last month noted that it would take a "miracle rehab" for Wainwright to pitch again in 2015, he, too, is finally starting to allow himself to believe.
"I'll meet him in the middle," Mozeliak said, "and I'll smile."