Wainwright spoke from St. Louis, just a day after he had the surgery with Dr. George Paletta, the Cardinals' head team physician. He said he expects to rejoin his teammates in Florida on March 14, two weeks after the operation. He was still feeling the effects of the surgery, as well as the medicine he's taking in the wake of it.
"Physically, I'm pretty laid up," he said. "But mentally I'm doing fine. I'm on some pretty strong medicine, so that makes it a little easier. But I've been told that everything went very well and so we'll just wait and see. But I feel great, to be honest with you."
2010 Spring Training - null
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Wainwright felt some pain at the end of a Feb. 21 live batting-practice session, and by the end of that evening, he had a pretty good idea that he was dealing with a significant injury. It's the third time that Wainwright has injured the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, and this time he knew quickly that he would require "Tommy John" reconstructive surgery.
"[The ligament] wasn't completely torn, but the problem was the top of my ligament had a new tear in it. Where I had injured it before was at the bottom of my ligament. When you put that all together -- I will refer to the doctors on the percentages of it being torn -- but basically the whole thing was mangled. It was time for it to go."
The 2010 National League Cy Young Award runner-up said he briefly had some hope that this injury was minor, but soon realized that it was a big deal.
"I kind of had a feeling that I may have done something, but I was just kind of hoping that I hyperextended it," he explained. "When you pitch as long as I have, you have times where you slightly hyperextend your elbow when you're pitching. You take a couple light throwing sessions in between, or maybe take a day off in between starts, and then you're fine. So I was kind of hoping that's what I did."
After leaving the Cardinals' complex to spend the evening with his family, though, Wainwright began to understand what he was dealing with.
"I got out of the car and my elbow had stiffened up completely on me," he said. "I started to get a little worried. I put my girls down for a nap, and I threw the old arm sleeve on trying to get some blood circulating through there. Woke up from my nap and it was just completely tightened up on me. And I immediately knew what that feeling was."
Club officials have framed a roughly 12-15 month timetable for Wainwright's return to action, but he emphasized that he believes he'll be on the short end of that schedule.
"Everything I've heard is I'll be back full steam, full bore, ready to go this time next year, Spring Training," he said.
Wainwright has dealt with some issues in his elbow dating back to 1998, when he was in high school. He didn't have another major recurrence until 2004, when he made only 12 starts for Triple-A Memphis. He came back strong in '05, though, and wasn't affected again until the end of the 2010 season. Wainwright was scratched from his final start due to some elbow discomfort.
Still, he said he felt fine all winter -- and through his early throwing sessions -- before the ligament gave way last week.
"Last year's muscle strain was probably a warning sign," he said. "I think my surrounding muscles and stuff were having to work overtime to keep my ligament healthy. And I think they got tired of working so hard."
As for one of the most talked-about topics among Cardinals fans, Wainwright said he had no hesitation whatsoever about having Paletta perform the surgery. He cited three current and former teammates who had the same operation from the same doctor.
"It's something that, clearly, it's a big decision, so I definitely sought other opinions," he said. "I went straight to [Chris Carpenter]. I called [Jason] Isringhausen. Talked to [Kyle] McClellan. Talked to guys who've been worked on by Dr. Paletta, and everyone had rave reviews. I also talked to other people about other doctors as well. ... I've had a history with Dr. Paletta. I trust what he says and I trust his abilities, so it was easy for me."
On top of it all, Wainwright expressed his customary optimism, wondering if he might come back better than ever.
"I haven't had a real ligament in my elbow since my sophomore year of high school," he said. "So I'm kind of looking forward to seeing the results of a healthy arm."