Computer: has Adam Wainwright ever struggled this badly with his control?
I'll be honest—I'd totally forgotten about how terrible a start he got off to in 2007. I'm proud of the Cardinals for keeping their foot down on his spot in the rotation, something I'd have liked them to do with this guy; we owe Jason Isringhausen a lot, as fans, but his last great gift to us was the masterly start he got off to that year.
The short answer is that no, Adam Wainwright has never struggled—and yes, he's hardly struggling in a value sense, to this point—in this particular way. The Adam Wainwright we've seen thus far is pitching deep into counts, striking people out by the inning, and altogether behaving like a completely different pitcher from the completely developed almost-ace we (perhaps presumptuously) expected out of the gate.
Is he hurt? If he is, he's made far and away the best post-injury adjustment I've ever seen—Mark Mulder, of the sidearm fastball and the blooper curve, or Woody Williams, knuckleball pitcher, would be inconsolably jealous. It's bizarre, but pitchers, presumably, struggle in different ways just like hitters do. Maybe Wainwright is one constant struggle away from becoming the bad version of Carlos Zambrano.
Ryan Franklin looks like the closer now, but I don't think La Russa is ready to let someone take a real stake in the closer's job at the moment; aside from McClellan, who has once more proved Spring Training's worth by emerging as the Cardinals' late-innings stopper for the second April in a row, everything in the bullpen seems subject to change without warning.
(I'll say this for bullpen fluidity—I've always liked it as an idea, but like the kid who wants to stay up forever and is suddenly given the opportunity [I am thinking of Pete & Pete here, for what that's worth] I'm finding the day-to-day practice a little more frightening than the theory. Which is to say I can see how easy it must be for managers to fall into the mindset of using pitcher x for situation y, over and over, day after day—my job isn't on the line every time I get a little uneasy about who's warming up.)
Maybe it's old habits dying hard, but I can't shake the feeling that the job is still Chris Perez's to lose. He's up against two guys, Franklin and Motte, who have periods where they look extremely hittable, and he himself is among the least hittable-looking pitchers to come out of the minors in some time. Should Franklin look old in the process of blowing a save or two I just feel like Perez's flaws are more likely to be tolerated, especially in a city inured to walk nausea by seven(!) years of Jason Isringhausen.
I was not going to get excited about P.J. Walters, heretofore the rich man's Trey Hearne, under any circumstances; I was pretty clear about this, to myself. As a guy who can too easily fall under the sway of the nearest Blake Hawksworth or Gary Daley, I need to have limits, and mine have typically been drawn around the guys whose strikeouts come gift-wrapped in scouts' apologia. When his walk rate doubled last year upon his Memphis debut, I felt vindicated—of course this was a smart pitcher compensating for superior hitters by walking the ones he couldn't deal with. It's easy to become a pitching psychologist, so long as you're not watching the pitcher.
But that most pernicious of baseball rumors, the velocity increase, has been attached to his name in the last few months, and now I must get up the necessary muted excitement. Whatever I can say about the guy, however I can justify his doing what he did, he struck out a batter an inning in the Pacific Coast League last year, and he did it as a relative youngster in his first go-round. If he hits 86 on the Gameday, I'll hope he's got enough Simontacchi Gumption in him to win this one game. If he hits 90, I'll stay optimistic.
Regardless of his actual MLB readiness, I'm excited to see the changeup that the P-D notes "was actually described by scouts as a 'screwball.'"