Cardinal hurlers see Wainwright as an able leader

By Corey Noles

(KSDK Sports) -- With the official retirement of Chris Carpenter at the end of the 2013 season, Adam Wainwright became the de facto staff leader—a job some of the St. Louis Cardinals young pitchers feel he handles like a pro.

Being the elder hurler on a pitching staff doesn't make one a leader. Being a great pitcher does not make a leader.

Being a leader comes natural. Either you have it or you don't.

Adam Wainwright has it.

When Shelby Miller arrived in St. Louis, he was a young man thrust into a fast-paced lifestyle. He had to learn what it meant to be a pitcher in the major leagues, but he also had to learn what it meant to be a major leaguer.

Wainwright taught him that.

"Last year was my rookie year, so I didn't know all of the things I needed to do and he took me under his belt and helped me out a lot," Miller said. "Obviously, he's been in the game for a while and seen it all. He kind of tells us how to go about the game as a professional player."

For young players new to the league, there are many struggles and temptations. From money to fame, there are countless things that come between a young talented player and his goals.

While it wasn't an issue necessarily for Miller, he has learned first-hand the value of having a leader like Wainwright to reach out to with concerns.

"They don't necessarily have to tell us to do that, but we learn a lot from watching them and their routines," Miller said. "With anything, I'm comfortable going up and asking him questions. It's a good clubhouse."

Miller was quick to credit both Wainwright and Carpenter for their role in his early success at the major league level.

Wainwright's style of leadership is one of necessity.

If a teammate has an issue, he's always glad to help, Miller said. But he might come to you if he notices an issue.

Michael Wacha said Wainwright has come to him in the past, but never in a way that might seem pushy.

"If somebody's struggling, he'll definitely take you into the video room and try to find out if it's mechanical or if it's what you're thinking," Wacha said. "He's very helpful in that sense."

While Wainwright is a positive leader by teaching, it's the lessons he teaches by example that really set him apart from the rest. He's battled back from injury, handled high leverage postseason appearances and just about any other situation that comes to mind.

In eight major league seasons, he's seen it all. He's hoisted trophies and hung his head in defeat.

"For us young guys he's just a good guy to be able to talk to about the game," Wacha said. "He's definitely a leader by talking, but he's even more of a leader by showing. He gets here early every day. He gets his work done."

In 2014, Wainwright is getting his work done in a new way. That change in his way of thinking has clearly impressed his manager, Mike Matheny.

A former catcher, Matheny knows well the struggles a pitcher can face throughout a long career. Many pitchers fade away, but the special ones always find a way.

Wainwright is finding a way.

"Obviously, the results are what we all focus on, but I just come back to what it's teaching our younger pitchers," Matheny said Sunday. "This guy, who's had so many accomplishments and a great career, but is not afraid to figure out how he can get better."

Matheny explained that great pitchers are always looking to improve and see room to grow. For example, what does five wins in the month of April mean to Wainwright?

"It just means I lost one."

This year Wainwright is making some changes and he's doing it with a vengeance. He's not just making some minor adjustments; he's done a major overhaul of his entire approach.

Hitters who have had success against him in the past will need to take a fresh look the next time they meet because "2014 Wainwright" isn't the same pitcher.

"I'm really having more fun pitching now than I've ever had," he said. "I just feel like I'm right where I want to be. I'm working extra hard to stay there and not get complacent."

For Wainwright, that means finding new ways to do things while at the same time sticking with his strengths—just like he tells the other pitchers on the staff to do.

"My key for this season is going to be executing every single pitch," he said. "I'm the strongest mentally I've ever felt in my life. I'm totally confident with every pitch."

After struggling in his return from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright wasn't happy with his pitches proclaiming that he had the curveball and three "terrible pitches that stunk."

As a result, he had to find new ways to get outs. He began tinkering with things and suddenly he's throwing a cutter instead of the slider and changing his delivery speed.

"I feel like I've got a master plan—like I can almost hear the music of the game inside of my head," Wainwright said. "It's kind of like a symphony and I've got to just keep playing the music."

In the midst of fixing his own perceived issues, he clearly shares in the success of his staff. In fact, he sees this team's young arms as above even his own talent.

Impressed with what Wainwright calls their "giddy-up," he believes in guiding them to make the most of their strengths—not in changing them to reflect his own.

"I might possess that once or twice a year in a big tight game with a lot of adrenaline or something, but they sit there," he said. "They're there every inning. To vary up what they're doing too much would be a mistake."

He sees their speed and knows that their talent is different than his. Not all pitchers are cut from the same mold.

"Those guys strengths are greater than mine," Wainwright said. "I'm just crafty."

Trevor Rosenthal would disagree.

Much like Wainwright, Rosenthal was also pitching final outs in Postseason games during his rookie season—a common bond they share and have discussed in the past.

As a result, Rosenthal has a great respect for Wainwright both on and off of the field.

"He's definitely the leader of the staff and he's always looking to help somebody," Rosenthal said. "I go to Adam with a lot of things—baseball and non-baseball. He's just a great friend and a great teammate."

Chris Carpenter is gone from the clubhouse, but not from the team. For years, Wainwright depended on Carpenter as the club's ace pitcher.

Now that responsibility lies solely in Wainwright's hands. So far he appears to be owning the challenge.

Corey Noles is a Cardinals Writer and Columnist for The Daily Statesman. Contact him at or on Twitter @coreynoles.


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