JUPITER, Fla. -- Though he came back as a reliever in time to participate in the postseason last fall, Adam Wainwright returned to the mound as a starter in Monday's 9-4 win over the Mets for the first time in nearly 11 months.
Wainwright's prep for his fourth consecutive Opening Day assignment began with a 38-pitch, two-inning outing that wasn't as crisp as the Cardinals' righty had hoped, but nonetheless had him back pitching in a familiar role. It marked his first start since April 25, 2015, when he suffered a left Achilles tendon injury that doctors estimated could take as long as a year to recover from.
He surprised everyone by returning to the mound five months later and is now ready to resume his role as rotation ace with the added benefit of feeling unusually fresh.
"My arm is reaping the rewards from taking that time off, for sure," Wainwright said. "That time off has certainly helped me in the long run, I think, and that's definitely the way I'm looking at it."
Wainwright worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning on Monday and stranded two more Mets runners in the second. He walked three, an unusual result from a pitcher who rarely has command troubles, but got out of the start without allowing a run.
"He was elevated. That's not typically him," manager Mike Matheny said. "But first game out, he still gets big outs. He gets bases loaded and makes better pitches. That's Adam."
There is enough time on the spring calendar for Wainwright to make four more starts before he takes the mound in Pittsburgh on April 3. He'll start throwing more curveballs as his starts extend, and he'll zero in on his fastball command. It's all part of the normal spring progression for Wainwright, who is simply thrilled to be considered on a normal starting routine again.
"I'm focusing in a big bucket right now, and I have to focus on a ping pong ball," added Wainwright, using an analogy to describe the progress he intends to make by the end of camp. "Focus smaller is what I need to do. It's all timing. It is. And as I get going harder and faster, I need to take the ball out a little sooner, extend my stride a couple more inches. I know those things, and I'll make those adjustments."