Adam Wainwright suffered the worst outing of his career at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night, lasting just two innings and giving up nine earned runs. It was the first time in Wainwright’s career as a starter that he has failed to reach the third inning.
The worst outing of his career, after his longest outing of the season.
Last Friday, Wainwright threw 128 pitches in a complete game win over the Braves. The most pitches Wainwright has ever thrown in a start came in September of 2009, when he threw 130.
Anyone brushing off last week’s pitch count and tonight’s performance is either entirely optimistic about the possibility of a bad, isolated start, entirely ignorant about Wainwright’s workload, or perhaps both.
Wainwright has already thrown more innings this year than all of last year, and while he has been efficient, only three pitchers in all of baseball have thrown more pitches than him this year. I am not saying to sound the panic alarm, only pointing out that Wainwright is not bulletproof.
Pitch counts are a very real thing in today’s game, like it or not. Especially for a guy who has surpassed his innings and pitch totals from all of last year already and is a few years removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, pitch count is a very real thing. No matter what the manager and the pitcher say.
This isn’t to argue that Wainwright is on the verge of slipping, or struggling, or not being the pitcher that he has been for the first four and a half months of the season. His numbers have been remarkable, and he is putting together perhaps the second best year of his stellar career.
I think that people have pushed Wainwright aside when we discuss pitch counts and usage and having the rotation in the best possible shape when the postseason rolls around.
Just because he is the ace of a staff, and a very young staff at that, shouldn’t make him immune from the discussion of usage and health as the Cardinals hurdle towards the postseason. Because the ace needs to be the ace when the most important games come around. Even Dusy Baker agreed after the game. DUSTY BAKER! The king of “letting them loose.”
I don’t have any doubt that he will be, but he wasn’t on Wednesday.
On the bright side, Michael Wacha was tremendous in relief for the Cardinals, granted, in another low leverage situation. With Carlos Martinez sent back down to AAA on Wednesday, the Cardinals were again without another long reliever, so Wacha got the ball in the third inning after Wainwright’s hook.
This leads to the question of Wacha’s usage, and what his future holds. Not as much whether he returns to the minors to come back up next week, but if he truly will be used exclusively for high-leverage situations down the stretch.
In a perfect world, you would love to not have to burn one of your most dynamic bullpen arms in mop-up duty or low-leverage situations. The reality is that it isn’t a perfect world, and the Cardinals’ moves have limited what they can do with their bullpen when they get into situations like Wednesday night, or when Shelby Miller took one off of the elbow.
Cardinals fans should hope that the drastic times are few and far between, both for the success of the team, and the usage of arms like Wacha’s.