After struggling initially in his return from Tommy John surgery, the St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright said he's beginning to feel like himself again.
Seeking his third win in as many starts, Wainwright will try to continue his recent success against the team that drafted him, the Atlanta Braves, on Saturday night but might have to outduel fellow right-hander Brandon Beachy.
Wainwright, a 20-game winner in 2010, missed all of last season after having the ligament on his pitching elbow replaced. That lengthy absence had the right-hander a little rusty heading into this campaign as he went 0-3 with a 9.88 ERA in his first three starts.
Wainwright, however, has seemed to find his groove lately, going 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his last three outings. In the most recent of those, he allowed one run over seven innings and matched a season high with seven strikeouts in an 8-1 victory in Houston.
"It was the first time all year I've really felt extension out over the rubber and better life on the fastball, especially early on," Wainwright said. "I controlled the counts for the most part and let our defense work."
The right-hander will next try to pick up where he left off against the Braves. Wainwright (2-3, 5.61 ERA) has won each of his six career starts versus Atlanta - the most recent on Sept. 9, 2010 - while posting a 2.48 ERA.
Wainwright, though, will have to pitch opposite Beachy (3-1, 1.62), who hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of his last five starts. He gave up two runs and four hits over 6 1-3 innings during his third straight win, 7-2 in Colorado on Sunday.
Wainwright, a first-round draft pick by Atlanta in 2000, will also have to contend with a Braves lineup that produced nine runs in Friday's series opener after totaling four while dropping two of three in Chicago earlier this week.
Atlanta is among the NL's best with 175 runs scored this season and St. Louis has been even better with 181 runs.
The right-hander, though, might get some help from red-hot Carlos Beltran, who homered twice and finished a single shy of the cycle Friday. The Cardinals (20-12) couldn't take advantage as they fell 9-7 in 12 innings to end a four-game win streak.
Jason Heyward hit the go-ahead homer in the final frame and went deep for the third time in six games, helping the Braves (20-13) snap a seven-game skid in St. Louis.
"They've had a good team here for years and they have another good team," Heyward said. "Our pitchers hung in there. Our defense hung in there.''
Beltran, batting .455 (15 for 33) with seven home runs and 20 RBIs in his last nine contests, has never faced Beachy and neither has Rafael Furcal, who is 20 for 43 (.465) during a 10-game hit streak.
Beachy did not get a decision in his only start against the Cardinals on April 30, 2011, despite allowing two runs and three hits over seven innings.
Chipper Jones, who had two hits Friday, is a career .313 hitter at the new Busch Stadium after batting .216 at the Cardinals' former home. He's also 3 for 8 versus Wainwright.