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Wainwright struggles again as Cardinals lose to Reds

By Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

ST. LOUIS — There is a scar running near his right elbow that is all the explanation Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright needs for his ragged start to this season.

No more than four inches long, it illustrates the patience that his coaches say is required and the calendar that shows he’s still less than 14 months removed from elbow reconstruction. He can point to the scar as a reason.

He insisted Thursday he sees it only as an excuse.

“That’s a crutch that I’m not going to stand on,” Wainwright said after allowing four runs in five innings as the Cardinals lost, 6-3, to Cincinnati at Busch Stadium. “At some point, I’ve got to turn the page on that (surgery) and go out and execute whether I’m feeling great or not. I feel like I normally would. I’m just not executing.

“I’m missing a beat but I don’t think I should be.”

The Reds got home runs from Ryan Ludwick, Brandon Phillips, and Drew Stubbs as they salvaged one win from their first visit to Busch this season. The first two homers came off Wainwright, who lost for the third time in as many starts. It is only the second time in the righthander’s career that he has lost three consecutive starts, and the previous streak was 17 months and one ligament transplant ago.

After the game, Wainwright sought to separate his troubles and the 15 runs he has allowed in 13 2/3 innings this season from his ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery. He said he’s in “a funk” and that a lack of success should not be confused with a lack of health or a lack of strength. The elbow is sound, he assured.

It’s the pitching that needs work.

“It’s a constant battle for the next few months,” pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. While on the Cardinals’ minor league staff, Lilliquist oversaw the rehab of pitchers returning from elbow surgeries, such as Jaime Garcia. He explained how it takes months for a pitcher to get his feel, his strength, and his stuff back.

“He’ll go out there one start and it will be like, ‘Oh, there it is,’ It will be the Waino of old,” Lilliquist said. “It’s just part of the process. It takes time. The bottom line is it just takes time.”

Coming off the worst start of his career — the eight runs he allowed in the home opener — Wainwright felt he had better bite on his pitches Thursday. He called it “good enough stuff to win.”

He struck out three Reds on his way to three scoreless innings, sending down one hitter on a cutter, one on curveball, and another on a 91-mph fastball.

In the fourth, two misplaced cut fastballs cost him.

He tried to fire them low and away from righthanded hitters, but they veered up and over the plate. Phillips launched one for his first homer of the season, and Ludwick followed a batter later with a two-run shot. Of the 15 runs Wainwright has allowed, 11 have scored on homers. Phillips added an RBI single off Wainwright for a 4-0 lead in the fifth.

The surgery “may have something to do with it. But I’m not allowing myself to think that way,” Wainwright said. “Guys have done it before. Tim Hudson was fourth in Cy Young the next year (after surgery). It’s not like it’s impossible. That’s what is frustrating about it. People have done it. I know I can do it. I’m just not doing it.”

The procedure’s track record in the game is proven, and so is its timetable. Hudson returned to start after a year’s rehab but finished fourth in Cy Young voting the next season, 2010, which started 19 months after his surgery. Chris Carpenter led the NL in ERA in 2009, a season that started 21 months after his Tommy John surgery. Garcia finished third in rookie of the year voting in 2010, a season that opened 19 months after his surgery.

Wainwright will be 19 months removed this fall.

“You’re going to have days where you don’t feel quite right and can’t explain it,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s not going to come as easy as it used to. That will pass and he’ll be just as he always was.”

The Cardinals have not scored a run in Wainwright’s 14 innings, a trend that continued Thursday. Matt Holliday hammered a three-run homer in the sixth to bring the Cardinals within a run, but that was all the Cardinals could manage against Reds righty Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo (1-0) bedeviled the Cardinals through eight innings on 90 pitches. He threw as many balls (24) as he collected outs (24).

Holliday’s homer snapped his 0-for-11 skid, one that had Matheny pointing to the No. 3 hitter’s “loud outs,” those screaming line drives that find fielders. He entered Thursday’s game with a .182 average, fighting the urge to alter his approach in an attempt to elevate his numbers.

“You do want those results,” Holliday said.

That’s what Wainwright is seeking.

As he builds strength and regains velocity, Wainwright has not been able to consistently get extension on his pitches, and that cost him on both pitches that resulted in homers Thursday. He stressed that he recognizes his stuff may be limited by his recovery, but not his ability to find another way to win.

“I think the takeaway for me is that you remember the feeling of losing three games in a row,” Wainwright said. “That’s not a feeling I want to keep having. We’ve got five very good pitchers right now, and I’m the only guy who is not giving our team a great chance to win right now.

“I take that personally.”

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