Stronger legs lift Waino to expected heights

After uneven first two months, Cardinals' ace seeing benefits of workouts

Stronger legs lift Waino to expected heights

ST. LOUIS -- It was on a Thursday night in Anaheim, nearly two months ago, that Adam Wainwright believes the trajectory of his season changed. The Cardinals had sneaked out a win, but Wainwright's ERA bloated to 6.80 with six earned runs allowed. Afterward, he vowed to approach his next start as if it were his first of the year.

What followed for Wainwright was a critical look at why his mechanics were awry and an acknowledgement that he wasn't yet strong enough. Changes followed, and the results did, too, all leading to a strong first-half finish that culminated with a dominant performance in St. Louis' 5-1 win over the Pirates on Thursday.

"That was the turning point for me," Wainwright said after ending his club's three-game skid with seven innings of one-run ball in which he struck out nine while walking one. "It was a crossroads there. All things kind of converged to where I knew that my season was going to turn around after that game."

Though the left Achilles injury he sustained in April 2015 hasn't kept him off the field this season, Wainwright admitted on Thursday that it did hold him back. Shortly after that start against the Angels, Wainwright had the team's training staff test his leg strength. What he learned shocked him.

When he jumped vertically on his right leg, Wainwright could reach about 14-15 inches. From his left leg? Eight. A normal difference between the two is about two inches.

Wainwright got more tangible evidence when he tried one-footed jump-roping. His left leg fatigued on the second set of 25.

"It was so eye-opening," Wainwright said. "I was expecting to be a lot stronger early in the season than I was, and that was hard for me to comprehend and admit."

The revelation prompted Wainwright to change his between-starts work, and, over the past two months, he's been able to add about five inches to that vertical jump on his left leg. There's been tangible improvement on the mound, too, as Wainwright has gone 5-2 with a 2.89 ERA since that nightmare outing. Eight of his 10 outings have been quality starts.

Wainwright attributes that to having a stronger plant leg. No longer is his foot rolling off to the first-base side when he lands and affecting the finish of his delivery.

"It didn't have the strength to stop," Wainwright said. "There was nothing I could do. It's been a dramatic difference. The proof is in the pudding."

With assurances that he can now repeat his delivery, Wainwright has been able to turn his focus to the art of pitching once again. He's mixing his pitches with ease and changing his delivery speed at will. Both are indications that he's found his way back, a welcome revelation for the Cardinals, who will rely heavily on Wainwright as they try to climb back into contention in the second half.

"This is the guy," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle noted after Wainwright stifled his club. "The curveball slows you down. The fastball speeds you up. The cutter's on your hands. The two-seamer. He used all his pitches, stayed out of the middle of the plate. He's been a master craftsman out there for years. He was on top of his game today."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.