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Adam Wainwright details root of September struggles, writes Cardinals 'deserved better'

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Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon discuss the directions the Cardinals could go after yet another postseason flop.

In a series of candid, detailed descriptions shared on social media Wednesday, Adam Wainwright traced what caused his delivery to go haywire in September to a moment in August that at the time seemed like no bother at all.

During a start against Atlanta at Busch Stadium on August 28, Wainwright took a groundball off his left knee. The “comebacker,” as he called it on Twitter, came off Austin Riley’s bat at 103.5 mph – one of the hardest hits of the game – and after it ricocheted off his knee Wainwright scrambled over to retrieve the ball in front of the mound and whipped to first to get the out.

He believes few of his pitches were ever the same.

“Want to clear a few things up as I didn’t pitch like I wanted to down the stretch and feel the need to explain,” Wainwright posted on Twitter. “On Aug. 28th, I was hit in the knee by a comebacker against Atlanta. Without knowing it, after that game my stride length got shorter by almost a foot. Timing was thrown (off).”

What followed in Wainwright’s download was an explanation about how with a shorter stride from his 6-foot-7 frame he was relying more on generating power and velocity from his arm. Without the same stride, his head would lean out over and his arm would rush to catch up, like a catapult without its wheels locked. That led to yanking the arm or speeding up the arm – and either way, “you just pull yourself off target,” he wrote.

That sensation contributed to why he believed he had a “dead arm” and wasn’t getting the same life from his pitches, when he now suggests, according to his tweets, that it was the timing of his release, accuracy, and the lack of leg-drive behind his pitches.

The results were some of the most frustrating of his career, as he detailed to reporters throughout September, including an outing at Dodger Stadium that clearly left him broiling just below the surface.

“I don’t ever like pitching bad,” he said. “I hate pitching bad at this time of year.”

In that start against Atlanta, Wainwright pitched 6 2/3 innings, received a no decision in a game the Cardinals won, and dropped his ERA for the season down to 3.54. There was no indication of any pain or discomfort from the right-hander after that start. In the six starts that followed, Wainwright went 2-3 with a 7.22 ERA, more than doubling what he had in his previous 26 starts. He allowed 44 hits and 56 baserunners total in 28 2/3 innings during September. Opponents went from hitting .241 with a stingy .296 on-base percentage to reaching base more than 40% of the time against Wainwright.

The line-drive rate against Wainwright before the start of September was 24%, and during September that spiked to 35%.

“All new things for me that weren’t normal fixes,” he wrote of the issues. “It’s why I (wasn’t) able to generate any power with my arm. Fortunately we got it fixed one adjustment at a time, but the season was over. Let me say this, it’s my fault. … I didn’t stay diligent with my film work to catch it immediately. It wasn’t something I had struggled with before. The zip and crispness to my stuff returned as soon as we locked in on the problem. What I was attributing to dead arm was an awful delivery.”

Wainwright threw a series of bullpens on the eve of the Cardinals’ playoff appearance in the National League Wild Card against Philadelphia. Coaches who were present for the final bullpen were encouraged by Wainwright’s outing.

He was on the playoff roster, but his role was undefined.

He said he was ready to close Game 2 if the Cardinals were able to overtake the Phillies’ 2-0 lead in the eighth inning, and that he was also ready to close Game 3 if closer Ryan Helsley remained out with a finger injury.

“With everything on the line it is hard not to bet on him in one of these games,” manager Oliver Marmol said.

After the Cardinals were eliminated in the best-of-three series, Wainwright described a dilemma that greeted him: He understood but was also unhappy that he didn’t appear in the playoff spot, and he could either take that as a message or as a motivation. Asked later if those were the questions he would ask himself this week as he pondered whether to return for a 18th season, Wainwright said he already did. He had his answer. He did not share it.

He said he would share “pretty soon if something happens.” In September, the Cardinals were preparing for his return for the 2023 season and expected to talk with the veteran right-hander about what a one-year deal for that season would look like.

In 2022, Wainwright (11-12) had his first losing season with at least 20 starts, though he also pitched 191 2/3 innings and finished with a 3.71 ERA, even with the September struggles. He is five wins shy of 200 in his career and 15 shy of 210, which tie Hall of Famer Jesse Haines for the second-most wins by a pitcher in Cardinals history.

Bob Gibson leads with 251.

“The end of the season should have been way different for me, and who knows what happens if I’m sharp down the stretch,” Wainwright concluded in his final Tweet of the string. “I feel terrible about it. Y’all deserve better. My team deserved better. I owed an explanation …. So there you go. Go Cardinals.”

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