JUPITER, Fla. • It was only 30 pitches in February before a collection of 20 players and staff on Field 2 behind Roger Dean Stadium. But it was also Adam Wainwright throwing effortlessly and with command - momentous stuff just two weeks before the anniversary of his elbow injury last year.
Wainwright, who tore ligaments in his elbow and missed the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, threw 30 pitches warming up and another 30 to Cardinals infielder Tyler Greene, minor leaguers Robert Stock and Joseph Bergman, and former teammate Rick Ankiel.
He mixed sinkers, cut fastballs and his signature curve ... all for strikes and never above the knees.
The performance was compelling enough for an impressed Ankiel to quip at one point, "Make a mistake one time."
Catcher Tony Cruz called Wainwright's command "significantly" improved over last week's session against hitters.
Wainwright, who spoke confidently Wednesday afternoon about his recovery, left the field beaming. "I told you," he reminded.
A 20-game winner in 2010, Wainwright estimates he is throwing with 80-90 percent effort. He is most encouraged by the action on his breaking ball, which buckled knees during the Thursday session.
The good news doesn't surprise Wainwright.
"Too much work has been put into this by too many people, especially our training staff, for me to be surprised," he said.
Wainwright said he looks forward to building his arm strength further but is ecstatic about the ease of his delivery.
"As a pitcher, you want to be able to throw that gas," he said. "But we've still got two months to go. It's gone very well."
Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist was among those on hand for Thursday's session. He is convinced Wainwright will be able to open camp on the same program as the rest of the rotation when camp opens Feb. 18.
"I'm very positive about where he's at and how he feels," Lilliquist said. "Based on where is right now, I don't see why not. There could be something moving forward that would cause us to give him extra rest. As of right now, he's on schedule. His workload is good."
Wainwright has made every scheduled throw since arriving in camp January 12.
"His command is the biggest issue at this point, and it's really not an issue. It's been better every time he's gone out," Lilliquist said.
"Initially, the thought process is to get through the work healthy and to feel good the next day. As it progresses, you start dialing in command.
That's the last thing to come."
Wainwright, who finished in the top three in balloting for the NL Cy Young Award in 2009 and 2010, said he has no reservations about snapping off breaking pitches. "It probably makes a difference that I hurt it on a fastball," he said. "Some guys who hurt on a curveball have reservations about throwing it when they first come back. That's not the case for me. I'm full speed ahead."