Wainwright feels like himself after escaping jam

Wainwright feels like himself after escaping jam

CINCINNATI -- After a Reds two-hit, two-run first inning Thursday that was jump-started by a four-pitch walk to Joey Votto, it looked like it was going to be another one of those nights for Cardinals veteran Adam Wainwright.

With a career 2.98 ERA coming into 2016, Wainwright hadn't dealt with prolonged struggles over his 11-year career. But 2016 has been different. Wainwright carried a 5.40 ERA into Thursday's start, so he has seen his fair share of rough innings this season.

"I was so upset that first inning that I made a couple of really bad pitches in the middle of the plate," Wainwright said. "That walk sets that whole inning up, to Votto, and I know that. It just drives me crazy. I'd just rather do almost anything pitching than walk somebody."

But this start was different. Instead of letting that inning snowball into another bad start, Wainwright responded by retiring 14 straight batters, allowing just one more baserunner over six innings -- hitting Votto with a pitch in the sixth -- and striking out a season-high nine batters as his team went on to win, 3-2.

It was undoubtedly the best Wainwright has felt all season, and he finally felt like himself.

"That's me out there, that's exactly how I pitch," Wainwright said. "Mixing speeds, in and out, they didn't know what the speed was going to be or where it was going to be, and that's the way I like to get outs."

Everything starts with the fastball for Wainwright. When he is locating his fastball, he can build the rest of his repertoire around it, especially his curveball, which manager Mike Matheny described as having a yo-yo effect Thursday night.

"For him, we've got to establish the fastball," catcher Yadier Molina said. "We've got to do that, hit the corners and then throw the breaking ball down. We were able to do that tonight."

This start served as a continuation of what has been real progress for Wainwright. While his current 5.21 ERA still looks bad, he has pitched at least six innings in each of his last five starts. His ERA over those starts is 3.03.

"I do feel like it's sort of been trending that way," Wainwright said. "I've had good stuff the last few weeks and, I mean, this is the way I pitch. If you take out my start of the season, I'm pitching just like I always do. This is the way I pitch. I would've loved to have gone seven, eight, nine innings tonight, which I could've very easily done. This, I don't know, I feel like me out there. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel like me out there."

Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.