Wainwright faces hitters in next step toward return

Ace picks apart session, but manager Matheny genuinely excited

Wainwright faces hitters in next step toward return

ST. LOUIS -- With just about every teammate and Cardinals staff member gathered on the field to watch, Adam Wainwright, for the first time since tearing his left Achilles tendon in April, took the Busch Stadium mound on Wednesday to face a series of hitters.

These hitters were teammates, as Randal Grichuk, Matt Adams, Pete Kozma and Jon Jay rotated through to take swings off their recovering ace. The results were mixed, as Wainwright induced some weak contact around serving up a towering home run to Adams. But that didn't downplay the significance.

With the successful simulated inning, Wainwright, less than five months after undergoing surgery that was expected to sideline him for 9-12 months, moved closer to a return. Predictably, he still picked the 25-pitch showing apart afterward.

"I wanted to be better than that, but that's the first time," Wainwright said. "I've got some things to work on, and I'll do it. I have to hone everything in a hair. My strength is throwing the ball exactly where I'm trying to throw it. I've got good life on the ball now. I just have to hone it in here."

Wainwright expects to repeat this exercise in a few days, after which he could garner the clearance to come off the disabled list and appear out of the bullpen. The Cardinals would like to get him into a few games next week before determining his fit on a playoff roster.

"To be honest, I couldn't have been any happier," manager Mike Matheny said after observing the session. "I'm not sure I have to harness that [excitement]. Why not? What we have to do is also be realistic that that doesn't translate into an inning tonight. What it means is he got one step closer to being ready to get out there and hopefully have a little bit more movement on the mound and that will put him one step closer to being out here for real. No sense in not being excited about a guy coming back when nobody thought he would."

In addition to finding the desired crispness of his pitches, Wainwright also will have to pass additional agility tests before being considered ready for game action. Since receiving doctor's clearance to augment that mobility work, Wainwright has been adding to his agility workload daily.

He hopes to be cleared to break from the mound and field his position when he pitches in his next simulated game.

"Right now, we just want him feeling good so we can take him to that next level," Matheny said. "You have to see good stuff. You have to see how hitters react. You have to see if that location is there. You have to see if it looks right."

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