JUPITER, Fla. — Adam Wainwright always had a knack for getting out of jams.
Even while struggling with control in his Grapefruit League debut, the St. Louis Cardinals star escaped unscathed.
The 36-year-old righty walked three and gave up two hits in two scoreless innings Thursday in a 3-3 tie with Minnesota. He struck out three but only threw 26 of his 47 pitches for strikes.
"I hit location about half the time, which is not nearly good enough but is a stepping stone," Wainwright said.
Wainwright's fastball mostly was in the high 80s mph range. Only a handful of his heaters hit 90 mph or above on the ballpark's radar gun. His curveball is still a devastating pitch.
"When he got in trouble, he did what Waino does, which is he gets better," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
Wainwright's velocity dipped significantly last season, and toward the end his fastball often didn't leave the low 80s.
"Last year I was hurt," said Wainwright, who underwent offseason minor elbow surgery but is healthy now.
Prior to Thursday's outing, Matheny said he hadn't been concerned this spring with Wainwright's velocity. After seeing Wainwright touch 91 a couple times against the Twins, Matheny speculated that the velocity could climb a bit more throughout the spring.
While Wainwright struggled with command, he changed speeds, created deception by varying his throwing motion, and worked both high and low in the strike zone.
"No matter what that velocity is, well located with the right kind of movement and late life, and being able to change eye levels, that's pitching," Matheny said. "And next thing you know you see that guy standing out there late in the game."
Wainwright's respectable 12-5 record last season tied him for most wins among Cardinals, but his 5.11 ERA hardly alludes to the elite pitcher Wainwright once was. A double-digit win total despite a sky-high ERA does, however, indicate the kind of competitor Wainwright is.
"It's about making pitches and that's something Adam does," Matheny said. "And then, you can not put a value on heart. I love that idea. Don't rule out these guys who have been superstars. There's something that made them great for a long period of time. There's talent, but a lot of it's the character of who they are and how they compete. No one can question that about Adam Wainwright."
From 2009-14, Wainwright posted four seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA. During that period, the only years Wainwright didn't hit that mark were 2011, which he missed after undergoing ligament replacement surgery, and 2012, his year returning from that surgery.
That ERA climbed to 4.62 in 2016 before exceeding 5.00 last season.
Matheny compared the transition Wainwright is undergoing in an attempt to extend his career to that of 20-year veteran Bartolo Colon, currently in Texas Rangers camp on a minor league invite.
"He completely changed," Matheny said of Colon. "I remember seeing him when he came up with Cleveland. He was throwing hard — real hard — and he's had to morph into a pitcher that can get outs. He turned into an absolute turbo sinker guy that wasn't lighting up the gun at all but it was freakish."
Working in the final year of his contract, Wainwright would like to see his career follow a similar path.
"It is definitely the first time I've been compared to Bartolo Colon," Wainwright chuckled. "He's having a great career, so I can't really say that's terrible — but different guy. Bartolo's a blazer but I've never been a blazer. I was some what of a hard thrower but not a blazer like he was, for sure."