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03/28/08 10:00 AM ET

Wainwright ready for Opening Day nod

Right-hander excited, not nervous, to make big start

Adam Wainwright is honored and delighted to take the ball for the Cardinals on Opening Day. But he's not overwhelmed. He's had more daunting assignments.

"I think I've been in bigger situations," Wainwright said. "I'll be excited, definitely. But I think the key to this game is being able to control your excitement. I've been able to do that for the situations I've been in, which I believe are a lot more intense. That being said, Opening Day is a pretty cool time. I'm looking forward to it."

Eighteen months ago, Wainwright was the rookie closer for a World Series champion, taking the baton from the injured Jason Isringhausen. Last season, he emerged as the top starter on the St. Louis staff, filling some of the void left when Chris Carpenter was lost for the season.

Now, just as he did in October '06, he'll handle the assignment that ordinarily would belong to someone else. He hopes that he'll do as well as he did then.

"The reality of it is, if Carpenter was here, I'm probably not starting," he said. "But he's not, so I get to do it. It's a really exciting time for me. It's the start to hopefully a big year for me, but it's something cool I can say I did. I plan to do it for a long time, but I can always say I did it."

The Cardinals waited to make it official that Wainwright was starting the opener, but there was never really any doubt. In the absence of Carpenter and Mark Mulder, he's the unquestioned face of the staff.

"I think if ever a guy had some experiences to help him -- what he was thrown into in '06 -- Opening Day won't be any more nerve-wracking than that," said manager Tony La Russa. "I hope he's excited. He should be."

Regardless of who is or is not available, Wainwright is developing into a top-flight starter in his own right. After a slow start to '07, he was brilliant in the second half. The right-hander was a misleading 7-5 with a 2.71 ERA after the All-Star break, allowing all of four home runs in that time.

La Russa and Wainwright both believe the pitcher can be that good all year long.

"If I had a good start last year, that year is looking real good," Wainwright said. "But the important thing for me to realize is that it's just as important to have a good middle of the year and end of the year. I'm not looking to have a good start and coast. I'm looking to have a great year from start to finish."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.