Wainwright thrives 'playing chess' with batters

Cardinals ace enjoys throwing against Scherzer -- and pitching to Harper

Wainwright thrives 'playing chess' with batters

VIERA, Fla. -- Adam Wainwright received a text from longtime acquaintance Max Scherzer on Wednesday night.

"Are you starting tomorrow?" it read.

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Wainwright confirmed that he was, after which Scherzer followed with: "We'll see who's better."

The playful exchange was a prelude to a Spring Training treat on Thursday, when two of the league's best starters matched up at Space Coast Stadium. Scherzer, who struck out nine and allowed two unearned runs over five innings, got the win. Wainwright was content to have the challenge.

"At any stage, I love facing the best hitters and the best pitchers, and Max is of those," said Wainwright, who allowed four runs in the first 4 1/3 innings of the Cardinals' 8-2 loss. "I was very excited to pitch today. I had a great time. It was fun."

He may have gone head-to-head against Scherzer, but Wainwright said he particularly enjoyed going pitch-to-pitch against reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper. Harper connected for a first-inning double on a curveball that Wainwright said he "just kind of flipped in there." He featured a sharper curve in Harper's next at-bat and garnered a swinging strikeout. Harper singled off Wainwright in the fifth.

"We were kind of playing chess out there," Wainwright said. "He always works deep in the count off me. It seems like he's a very aggressive hitter usually, but our at-bats usually go six, seven pitches a lot of the time."

Worth noting
• Following a three-hit game on Wednesday, Kolten Wong got the opportunity to hit leadoff against the Nationals. The Cardinals still seem content leaving Matt Carpenter in that top spot, but they are open to considering Wong if he can show sustained improved in reaching base. From the leadoff spot on Thursday, Wong went 0-for-4 with a run.

• Manager Mike Matheny acknowledged that the club does not currently have a designated emergency catcher, a role Pete Kozma had filled the last few years. The Cardinals had Greg Garcia get some work behind the plate last year to ready for the role, though Matheny noted that Garcia "hasn't taken to that position."

• The Cardinals don't plan to have many of their relievers pitch on back-to-back days, even as Spring Training nears an end, preferring instead, Matheny said, to save "save those bullets." The one exception is Jonathan Broxton, who requested an opportunity to pitch on consecutive days. Broxton already leads the club with eight appearances. He has allowed two runs on 10 hits in eight innings.

• Reliever Jordan Walden was scheduled to pitch on Thursday, but he did not appear. Other relievers, Matheny explained, were more of a priority to get into the game against the Nationals. Walden is expected to throw on Friday.

• Thursday's game in Viera was the Cardinals' last at Space Coast Stadium, which will no longer be the spring home of the Nationals after next week. The Nationals and Astros will open a new spring facility in Palm Beach County in 2017.

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.