Teammates can empathize with Wainwright

Teammates can empathize with Wainwright

Teammates can empathize with Wainwright
JUPITER, Fla. -- If any set of teammates can empathize with Adam Wainwright for what he is about to endure, it is his own. The current Cardinals know from elbows as Andre Dawson knows from knees and Rickey Henderson knew from hamstrings.

A list of pitchers who have undergone reconstructive elbow surgery is as long as the left arm of Tommy John. And three of those pitchers -- Wainwright excluded -- are in the Cardinals' projected rotation for 2011. Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia have undergone the procedure. And Albert Pujols, a pitcher's second worst enemy -- second to surgery -- has had his elbow issues as well.

Enter the team's clubhouse and go scar gazing. The Cardinals have more sutures than Carpenter has tattoos or Musial had hits. They're about to get more.

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"Adam and I have talked about it already," Carpenter said, after Wainwright had left camp for St. Louis and an MRI. "I told him he's about to go through the worst thing in sports, an injury that knocks you down. It's not just the surgery, it's the whole thing.

"You know, if you're not performing well, you can do something about it -- find a new way, work harder, get some help. But when you can't play because of an injury, there's not much you can do about it, just wait until you get your strength and your range of motion back. ... It's not going to be easy for him. I feel bad for Adam. I don't feel bad for the ballclub. He's the one who's hurt and has to get through it."

Carpenter knows of what he speaks. He was removed from his 2007 Opening Day start against the Mets in St. Louis, underwent surgery in May and returned in late July of '08, before other physical issues interrupted his comeback. He made 28 starts and pitched 192 2/3 innings in '09, missing five weeks because of an oblique injury, and made 35 starts last season, which led the National League.

"You can get back, and I'm sure Adam will, because he's young [29], younger that I was, and he'll work at it.

Pujols said he was unaware that Wainwright probably would require surgery, but then spoke as if the surgery had been scheduled. "It's kind of disappointing, because he is such a competitor," Pujols said. "It's pretty tough to swallow."

Cubs reliever, Kerry Wood, himself a Tommy John survivor, was moved when word of Wainwright reached Arizona.

"You feel bad for the guy, and you never want to see guys get hurt, especially top-of-the-line guys like that, but he's not the first and he won't be the last."

Wood's teammate, Sean Marshall, said: "He's on one of our rivalry teams, but I still wish him the best as a friend. You don't wish that on anyone, for sure, even if it is your 'sports enemy.' Adam's a great guy and I wish him well.

"He's definitely one of the staples in their rotation, and a Cy Young contender the last couple years, and it helps our team if he's not in the rotation, but you don't wish anything bad on anybody."

Tony La Russa didn't sugarcoat the circumstances, but as any manager must do, he spoke of the other side of the injury, and the absence of a player critical to the team's success.

"Someone has to take advantage of the opportunity," he said several times, emphasizing that the someone will come from among the pitchers in camp. A free agent -- Kevin Millwood? -- is unlikely to be added to the staff.

The Cardinals made an effort during the offseason to add depth to their pitching. They were mindful of the problems that developed in May last year, when Brad Penny went down. Ian Snell, late of the Mariners and Pirates, and 40-year-old veteran Miguel Batista are in camp, but the most likely candidate to replace Wainwright is right-hander Kyle McClellan, who has pitched exclusively in relief in his three (2008-10) big league seasons. McClellan prepared to be a starter in each of the last two training camps. "It's OK with me," he said.

"It won't change the mentality of the team," Garcia said. "We have guys here who can be a No. 1 [starter]. I've never thought we had a No. 5 guy, so we have guys who can step up. But if Adam's not around, I'll miss him. He helped me a lot last year."

Garcia, who had made one start and nine relief appearances before last season, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008. He said the entire experience benefited him.

"It makes you stronger. It helped me learn how to pitch. I think it helped me to mature."

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.