Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 6/26/12
Adam Wainwright has talked numerous times about his return from Tommy John surgery being a process, one that has several steps and highs and lows after missing the entire 2011 season. But asked after another solid start Saturday what steps remain in his journey, Wainwright confirmed what others were starting to think for a while. The former 20-game winner is back. "I don't think there's another step other than just taking the ball," Wainwright said. "I'm confident what I'm doing right now will work and confident I'll get outs no matter where I'm pitching or who I'm pitching against if I pitch like I am right now." Wainwright has certainly had some hiccups along the way. He tied a career high with eight earned runs in the Cardinals home opener on April 13. He allowed five earned runs on May 12 against the Atlanta Braves and was touched for seven earned runs on June 1 in New York. But if the last four starts are any indication, the old Wainwright is back. Gone are any worries about how his arm will respond or if he'll be healthy following a missed season due to the elbow surgery last year in spring training and back is the dominating stuff that helped him win an NL-best 39 wins from 2009-2010. Wainwright made his 15th start of the season Saturday against the Royals in Kansas City. He allowed two earned runs in seven innings but if not for a misplay in center by Jon Jay that was ruled a hit, the Royals probably wouldn't have scored at all. He allowed just six hits and walked one, rarely finding himself in trouble. But when he did, he reached back and found a little extra. With two on and two out in the seventh, Wainwright struck out Humberto Quintero on his final pitch of the day to end the threat. It was the third straight for Wainwright in which he went seven innings and allowed two earned runs or less. "That's a pretty dominant performance," manager Mike Matheny said Saturday. "I think he's in a good grove right now and he feels really great." Asked if Wainwright looked like his old self, Matheny replied, "I'll take what we got. He looks great. His tempo, his stuff, the execution. He's still the same guy. When he gets into trouble, he's able to get himself out." The right-hander had a 6.16 ERA after his first seven starts and questions arose about his health following a lost season in 2011. But Wainwright maintained he was getting closer and moving in the right direction. Turns out he was right. Wainwright has allowed two earned runs or less in six of his last eight starts. His ERA has been dropping ever since and sits at 4.32 as he prepares for his next start Friday at Busch Stadium against the Pirates. "I've gotten to the point where I'm feeling the same after games and between starts in my bullpen sessions," Wainwright said. "I know for the most part how I'm going to feel when I take the mound before the game in my preparation and trying to stay real consistent on my routines in between just so I know. "It's something I don't ever think about anymore." The turning point came during a between-start bullpen session in Los Angeles in mid-May. Wainwright realized his arm slot had gotten higher than in years past, and as a result, his pitches didn't have the same type of movement. So Wainwright lowered his arm slot a bit and started releasing the ball from a slightly lower position. Things instantly fell into place and Wainwright felt more at ease. And the results came immediately. Wainwright's next start was his best of the season, a four-hit shutout to beat the San Diego Padres. It was also his first complete game since the surgery, reassuring to himself that he was again the pitcher he once was. But Wainwright did more than realize a mechanical flaw. He realized he had to bring a different mindset with him as well. "When I took the mound that game, I did it with a different ferocity," Wainwright said. "It was a stretch to begin the season where I was trying to do all these different things like I did before but mentally I wasn't as mean as I wanted to be out there. "I wasn't as relentless as I wanted to be out there. And if your going to get outs at this level, you have to be relentless pitch after pitch and that was the first game I took that mindset." And his teammates have begun to notice. "He's pitching like the ace that he is," said slugger Matt Holliday. "I think his feel is coming back for his offspeed pitches and his location. He looks a lot like he did two years ago when he won (20) games. It's just a matter of time. We all knew once he got his confidence and his feel, he'd be the Adam of two years ago. " Wainwright indeed looks like the pitcher he did before surgery. And that can mean nothing but good news for the Cardinals.
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