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Wainwright to start sixth (or seventh) home opener

Wainwright to start sixth (or seventh) home opener

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Indians Cardinals Baseball

St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina, left, celebrates with Adam Wainwright after Wainwright pitched nine complete innings against the Cleveland Indians, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)

MIAMI — Thursday’s Cardinals home opener with the Milwaukee Brewers will be the 16th that righthander Adam Wainwright has attended. It will be the sixth he has started officially, tying Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for the most, not counting the March 31, 2008, opener at Busch Stadium that was rained out in progress.

Wainwright has won but one, a 5-0 victory over Houston in 2010 when he worked eight scoreless innings, fanning seven. Wainwright is big on the ceremony and enjoys everything about first days at Busch. But he also likes to be part of the action.

“I love home openers, especially St. Louis’ home opener,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “The governor ought to issue this as a state holiday. Let kids out of school and all kinds of stuff — that’s just my opinion.

“But to answer your question about whether I like pitching them or not. I like pitching. I love pitching in them and I also like not pitching in them. Both are great for different reasons.

“Pitching them … it’s like a playoff game, as far as adrenaline goes and being able to get the most out of yourself. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that, it just doesn’t. I like both but if I was going to have to pick one … I like pitching it.”

The ceremonies, owing to COVID 19 constrictions, won’t quite be as elaborate as usual. But Wainwright countered, “Compared to what we’re used to, we haven’t had anybody in the stands. We haven’t had anybody on the field. We’re going to have a million times more than what we’ve had for over 500 days.

“So we’re super excited to get out and play in front of our great fan base again.”

For instance, even though he was with the club for most of last season, rookie outfielder Dylan Carlson will be celebrated by fans at Busch for the first time.

Wainwright is 1-3 overall in home openers but he said of the game with Colorado that was canceled, “That’s a win, for sure. We were up 5-1 in the fourth inning when we got rained out.”

One opener was particularly messy. In 2012, in his first game at Busch in two seasons after he had missed 2011 with Tommy John elbow surgery, Wainwright was tagged for eight runs in three innings by the Chicago Cubs.

“That wasn’t my best one,” he said. “But I know I’ve pitched a couple of great games in those situations and am looking forward to doing it again, especially after last outing. I need a little rebound game.”

In Cincinnati Saturday, Wainwright had two perfect innings and then was touched up for six runs and seven hits in the third. One was a two-run homer by Tucker Barnhart after a “no-no” for Wainwright or any veteran pitcher, a leadoff walk. The other hits might as well have been rolled through the infield by the hitter.

“Was that unbelievable?” he said. “It’s tough to swallow a little bit. How does one of those not go to somebody? My hitting coach Jeff Albert came over to me after the game and said, ‘That many balls in a row hit softly for hits just does not happen.’”

Wainwright hopes to be invited back to home openers whenever he chooses to quit playing. “My wife asked me last year, ‘When you retire, are we still going to watch Cardinals games?’” he said.

“My family is all about Cardinal baseball. When my kids see somebody walking down the street with a Cubs jersey, they’re like, ‘Gross!’”

Should Kolten Wong lead off, as expected, for the Brewers, Wainwright will be facing a longtime teammate and somebody he faced constantly in impromptu workouts during last year’s long hiatus.

“I know what he’s going to be trying to do,” said Wainwright. “He’s going to want to start off the game with a buzz. He’s a good teammate, a good man and part of a lot of really good Cardinals teams.”

When Wainwright comes to bat for the first time in two seasons, he will be trying to go over .200 for his career average.

“I’ll probably be trying to shoot a little single to right,” said Wainwright, who rarely tries to do that.

“Maybe let a bunt down. Do you believe that?

“I’m going to bunt for a base hit on the first at-bat. Tell the defense to be ready for a bunt.”

Wainwright has had his way (18-11, 2.50 earned run average) against the Brewers and, for the first time since virtually he started playing, Wainwright will not be facing slugger Ryan Braun, who has retired.

“I think I’ve faced him over 100 times,” said Wainwright. “I got him most of the time.”

Although Braun homered off Wainwright in their final meeting late in 2020, Wainwright held Braun to 20 hits in 96 at-bats in his career and struck him out 25 times while issuing Braun only three walks.

Kim — and a six-man rotation

Lefthander Kwang Hyun Kim, who fanned eight in five innings in a simulated game on Tuesday in Jupiter, Florida, joined the team for the trip north after Wednesday’s game. He could be activated next week and manager Mike Shildt, asked if he would go to six starting pitchers, didn’t reject the theory but didn’t necessarily see it as imminent with a couple of days off coming up in the next week.

“The needle hasn’t been moved,” said Shildt, who indicated that something could happen in this regard before the All-Star break. “Whether we do it as a full-time regimen capacity, I don’t believe that we will. But I can’t rule it out.”

Five and fly

According to Post-Dispatch research conducted with the help of Retrosheet, the Cardinals never have opened a season with no starters going longer than five innings in the first five games of the season. The closest came in 2001 when Darryl Kile, Andy Benes, Matt Morris and Dustin Hermanson failed to go past five against Colorado (three games) and Arizona (one) before Kile went six innings to beat Arizona in the fifth game.

Seat spacing and concession stand changes will be in place this year at Busch Stadium.

Rick Hummel @cmshhummel on Twitter rhummel@post-dispatch.com

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