About 3 1/2 months removed from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, Wainwright still comes to Busch Stadium to rehab his injury and to go over scouting reports with teammate Kyle McClellan(notes).
And he definitely has his teammates' collective back when it comes to cheerleading. During a thoroughly enjoyable radio interview with Rob and B.J. Rains on 1380-AM The Sports Zone on Friday, Wainwright was asked if he was surprised at how well the Cardinals have played this season, given all of their catastrophic and nagging injuries.
Waino referred to statements he made earlier in the season touting the Cardinals as the best team in the National League and, half-jokingly, how "smart" his teammates have made him look as an analyst.
With the Cards tied for third in the majors with 38 victories (despite getting swept at Milwaukee over the weekend), Wainwright was still chirping his tune about the Cards being the best team around:
"I can tell you that honestly," Wainwright said. "I'm not being biased here — I'm out for the season. We're better than the Reds. We're better than the Cubs. We're better than the Brewers. We're better than the Phillies. I mean, there's nobody that can play with us. [...]
"We're the best team in the big leagues right now."
Waino is bueno! This kind of boasting, like something out of a prizefight weigh-in, is rare in baseball anymore. Guys might think their team is the best, or say it amongst themselves, but to come out and do a roll-call of teams who aren't as good as your own, well, I like the bravado. (Whether he's "not biased" is another matter.)
Perhaps above all else, the interview (listen to more of it here) shows Wainwright's still in a competitive frame of mind despite being sacked with what must be a depressing injury. Wainwright admitted that his injury has prompted him to fall even deeper in love with baseball.
"I hang on every pitch. I feel like a fan again. If I miss part of a game on TV, I'll go back and rewind the DVR. I love baseball. I really, really love it. Being away from something you love that much, it makes you yearn to want to play it more."
Wainwright actually did cite several reasons for the Cards being the best team, such as having three perpetual MVP-types — Albert Pujols(notes), Matt Holliday(notes) and a rejuvenated Lance Berkman(notes) — along with the best depth he can remember the Cardinals having. He's not wrong. After a disappointing 2010 season, the job GM John Mozeliak has done finding manager Tony La Russa the right pieces to move around should be lauded.
One of the reasons Waino is so gung-ho about the Cardinals is the one-in-a-million chance that he could pitch for them if they're still playing in October.
"I asked the orthopedic surgeon in theory if there's any chance I could pitch in October. And he counts on his fingers and goes, 'In theory? Yes. In reality...'
"I said, 'Nope. Stop there. I'll take the 'In theory' part."
Wainwright said he's about three weeks from picking up a baseball, and plans to start throwing from a mound in September. After losing an "unbelievable" amount of muscle mass, he's regaining strength, and is able to bench-press 200 pounds after — not long ago — needing to hold water glasses with both hands to keep them from slipping out.
Wainwright later said he knows "almost certainly" that he won't pitch this season, but didn't lament it too much. His injury gave McClellan a shot at starting and that's gone OK. Wainwright has been able to spend precious time with his own growing family and is grateful for that. And he got injured at just the "right" time, in a sense. Even if pitching in 2011 is a pipe dream, Wainwright is perfectly on schedule to reclaim a spot in the rotation in 2012.
And he's obviously shown an ability to contribute to the 2011 Cardinals.