Wainwright in fine form during first 'pen session
Right-hander missed entire '11 season after Tommy John surgery
JUPITER, Fla. -- The latest step back for Adam Wainwright took place on Sunday just behind Field 1 at the Cardinals' Jupiter, Fla., complex, where four pitching rubbers provided the appropriate setting.
Wainwright, nearly a year removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery, took his place on the mound, shortly after manager Mike Matheny led his team onto the field for its first official spring workout. Though he was just one of 15 pitchers to throw a bullpen session on this first day, Wainwright's 33-pitch effort was arguably the most dissected.
Consider his grade a passing one.
"I wasn't surprised because I know how hard he worked," said catcher Yadier Molina, who caught Wainwright's session. "I was waiting for that moment since last year. Finally, today, I was able to catch him. I was so happy to see him throw and to see him happy, too."
Wainwright mixed pitches with ease and showed no obvious signs of having missed the entire 2011 season. In fact, Wainwright said he feels closer to regular-season ready than he normally does at this point in camp.
"I certainly feel good," Wainwright said. "I'm a very positive thinker. It's the only way I roll. Guys are coming back [from Tommy John surgery] in 10 months sometime, so there's no reason to think 12 months is too soon."
Though Sunday marked the team's official start to camp, Wainwright has been throwing off the mound for a little more than five weeks already. He's pitched a bullpen session every third day since Jan. 12, and has thrown batting practice to hitters three times.
He has not endured a single setback during that span.
"Anytime you see a guy comeback from a major surgery, you just want to see the fluidness and if there is any tentativeness at all," Matheny said. "There was neither. You could tell that he was extremely confident, and he just had a locked in demeanor already. We're just harnessing that in a little bit and holding him back just a hair to make sure he's not trying to get too far ahead of himself. But that's a great spot to be in, having to hold a guy back instead of having to push him."
That's not to say, though, that Wainwright will have any limitations.
The Cardinals do not have plans to modify Wainwright's spring program, unless circumstances dictate a change. That means Wainwright is expected to make the usual five-to-six Grapefruit League starts and will accrue about the same number of innings as he had in any other previous spring.
How heavy a workload Wainwright is ready to shoulder during the regular season remains up for debate. General manager John Mozeliak has said that 200 innings -- a threshold Wainwright surpassed with ease in 2009 and '10 -- is likely out of the question.
"We have to be patient," Mozeliak said. "Most of all, from an organizational standpoint, we just have to be smart in how we use him and make sure that we protect him. I know he's very bullish on this season and excited to get going."
Wainwright's perspective does differ. He has no interest in putting any sort of cap on how much his arm can handle in 2012 because he's convinced such restraint won't be necessary. While little else has frustrated Wainwright during this recovery, those questions about workload seem to strike a nerve with him each time.
"I refuse to put a limit on my innings," he said. "I don't think it does anybody any good. I'm just going to try and minimize the tough innings and make them yank me out of the game."
Wainwright's next bullpen session is scheduled for Tuesday, which is particularly ironic timing. It was on that same date last year that Wainwright first felt something wrong with his elbow. Three days later, it was confirmed that his season was over.
That dose of perspective has certainly not been lost.
"I'm reluctant to talk about it because it feels so good," Wainwright said. "I hope it continues."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.