Wainwright’s Return Puts the Pressure on Shildt

photo: Francisco Pena, Mike Maddux, Adam Wainwright (Scott Kane/USA TODAY Sports)

Adam Wainwright’s return to the St. Louis Cardinals for 2019 has led to a range of strong reactions from team followers.

Some fans are delighted to see the 37-year old return to St. Louis for a 15th, and perhaps final, season in his celebrated major league career.

Others are concerned. Some are emotional, others logical. Sadly, those with worries seem to be lumped into one group which Wainwright has labeled as “Twitter trolls”.

Prior to the conclusion of the regular season, I wrote the following article.

Wainwright’s Future Should Not Be Driven by Emotion

In it, I outlined my concerns about Wainwright’s potential return, but ultimately concluded he deserved to be asked back. As we know, he was, and accepted the offer.

Wainwright’s initial 2019 role is not to serve as a reliever and to mentor the many young pitchers – it is to take the ball to open the game every fifth day.

“He’ll come to Spring Training as a starting pitcher, and then we’ll see how things work out,” general manager Michael Girsch told MLB.com.

As odd as it may initially seem, my ongoing worry is less about the pitcher himself. We already know he will be relentlessly positive no matter what happens.

Mike Shildt (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

My concern is with the Cardinals, and specifically, manager Mike Shildt, regarding how Wainwright will be used in 2019.

We already know that Wainwright will have to pitch his way out of the rotation. Because of his many past contributions, he will be given a longer rope than others would if he struggles. In that scenario, important games may be lost.

Some point to Wainwright’s September 2018 as a positive trend indicator. Peripherals are interesting, but the bottom-line reality is that his ERA was worse after his return – a 4.84 mark in four final-month starts – than it was before he went on the disabled list for the third time in 2018 (4.00).

The strength of the Cardinals is their starting pitching, as evidenced by the rotation’s 3.52 collective ERA in 2018, and the cadre of young arms fighting for jobs. Even the expectations for St. Louis’ number five starter should be high – certainly higher than an ERA pushing five.

Adam Wainwright (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

I neither want to see Wainwright disrespected, nor do I want to see him given special privilege because he has earned 10 pages in the Cardinals Media Guide stuffed with prior accomplishments.

For the good of the team – which should be the highest priority – I want to see Shildt use his hook as quickly when warranted with Wainwright as with any other struggling starter. And in the bigger picture, that hook should extend to his role, as well. I do not want to see Wainwright continue in the rotation – unless his current results validate that he is truly among the best five pitchers to start.

Given who Wainwright is, I worry about how an ongoing, honest assessment can and will be made. Unless Wainwright returns to his 2014 form five years later, the pressure may be on Shildt, almost as much as on the pitcher himself.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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