Wainwright in peak form as spring nears end

Wainwright in peak form as spring nears end

JUPITER, Fla. -- In starting Yadier Molina behind the plate for a third straight day, manager Mike Matheny had the intention of pulling his veteran catcher midway through Friday's game. He never did sub in another backstop.

"It didn't go quite as planned," Matheny noted afterward. "It went a little better."

Matheny didn't dare try to pry Molina from a game in which he and Adam Wainwright were clearly in sync. And Wainwright, in what was his second-to-last spring start, accomplished a rarity in Grapefruit League play by finishing eight innings.

Wainwright didn't even reach his preset pitch count of 90 in the effort, but Matheny needed to get Trevor Rosenthal some work, so he opted to remove Wainwright after 81 pitches. Giving a clinic on efficiency, Wainwright rolled through his final four innings on just 35 pitches. He threw seven in the eighth.

"I put a very high value on that," said Wainwright, who led the Majors in innings pitched last season. "That's how I want to pitch. I want to be a low-pitch-count, high-inning guy. Those innings like today, I feel less taxed than after my last start, when I threw close to 80 pitches. That was a better start for me today as far as my recovery will be better, my innings were easier and quicker. Everything is better when you do that."

Wainwright has one more spring start remaining, though there is seemingly little left to accomplish. He was effective with every one of his pitches on Friday -- including his curveball, which was a bit inconsistent earlier in the month. Just as expected, Wainwright has found the feel of that pitch over his last two outings.

"I was very close to being right," he said. "And today, everything fell into place."

With Wainwright stretched out, Matheny said the Cardinals might rein in the right-hander's pitch count next week in his final tuneup. From there, Wainwright will then move on to Cincinnati to face the Reds in the March 31 regular-season opener.

As Matheny approached Wainwright in the dugout after a scoreless eighth, Wainwright said he jokingly indicated he was ready to pitch the ninth. He knew, of course, that wouldn't happen. Matheny told him that "it was fun to watch," and in his postgame session with media afterward, added that it also "would have been fun to catch."

"He had everything working," Matheny said. "Those are the kind of days that I'm sure he has to love being out there. And I know Yadi had a fun time taking that for a ride."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.