Adam Wainwright’s health took a five-day-long “complete healing session” to ensure and eight innings to confirm, but finally the starter let out a slight sigh of relief at the start of his postgame interview that echoed loudly across Cardinal Nation.
“That’s why we took the last start off,” said Wainwright, who outdueled Cole Hamels in his return from a tennis elbow condition. “That was the right decision.”
Wainwright was adamant during his 10-day hiatus from the starting rotation that the rest was just precautionary and that his elbow hadn’t suffered any structural damage.
But he admitted Saturday that he had “a throbbing arm on every pitch,” during his start against Tampa Bay, the one that forced the short shutdown. Those few words right there, when uttered by an ace, are often enough to spark speculation, if not panic.
That’s why a return that looked so normal, so appropriately Wainwright-esque, fittingly put a stop to two things: the Cardinals’ three-game losing streak and any doubt that their ace should spend any more time on the shelf.
“Taking a little break and coming back as sharp as he did,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I don’t know why I’m surprised.”
Wainwright said he didn’t feel any pain in his arm — except the normal aftershock after Hamels jammed him during his first at-bat — and didn’t have any reservations about his level of effort. And going forward, he views the rest as something that will benefit him in both the short and long run.
“It wouldn’t have gotten better if I didn’t rest it,” Wainwright said. “The game in Tampa Bay, even though I had decent results, I didn’t feel good at all. It hurt. And we got all that calmed down now.”
Wainwright suspended all throwing activity for “three or four days” after receiving a cortisone shot to reduce the inflammation that had materialized on the back of his elbow (the ligament repaired during Tommy John surgery resides in the front).
Trainers used a consistent cycle of hot-cold, ultrasound and electric stimulation treatment on the arm.
“Once we decided I was going to miss my start, I knew it was the right play,” Wainwright said. “When you have total peace about something, it’s easy to not look back on.”
Wainwright clung as faithfully to his recovery plan as the Cardinal offense did to his recovered arm Saturday before finally rewarding him for it in the bottom of the eighth. It took all day to get to Hamels, but it was only possible because Wainwright provided the time by scattering six hits and one run over eight innings.
“That’s the reason he is — if not the best pitcher — in the top three,” outfielder Matt Holliday said.
Wainwright was reminded after the game that Hamels has excelled against some of the more obvious choices for that elite club, at least in the National League — Wainwright, Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto. Hamels came into play Saturday with a 10-2 record against those aces.
“He’s been 10-2 against us?” Wainwright asked back. “What’s he against me?”
That would be just 2-1, now 2-2.
“Yeah, exactly,” Wainwright said with a smile.
Wainwright struck out seven Phillies, including Ryan Howard looking to end a minor threat in the top of the eighth. The Cardinals scored three in the bottom of the inning, and Trevor Rosenthal pitched the ninth to save Wainwright’s 10th win.
That total is tied for the National League lead, while his 2.08 ERA is good for second. Rested and repaired, Wainwright is again ready to roll. It’s OK to be relieved.
“I didn’t know how many days I missed there,” Wainwright said. ”But it felt like an eternity”