JUPITER, Fla. (AP) - Adam Wainwright has no idea who the fan was that gave him that picture last week. He'd sure like to tell them thank you.
Wainwright limited Washington to one run in six strong innings in the St. Louis Cardinals' 5-1 exhibition victory over the Nationals on Friday, his second consecutive impressive start since a fan helped him fix a mechanical flaw.
The right-hander was leaving the stadium following a rough start against the Nationals on March 2 when a group of fans handed him picture. He noticed his stride had shortened this spring and he extended it 6 inches for his next outing. In two starts since the change, he has allowed one earned run in 10 2-3 innings.
``It's made a huge deal,' Wainwright said. ``It gives my pitches more life. I've found that happy zone where I'm not extended too far where my ball flattens out but I'm a little bit closer to the plate now and I'm able to get on top of the ball so I'm getting better downhill plane. It really was an adjustment that helped in all aspects.'
Facing mostly Washington backups, Wainwright took a shutout into the sixth inning and allowed only three hits on the day manager Mike Matheny officially confirmed he'd start opening day April 1 in Arizona.
Jon Jay and Matt Adams homered in a four-run first inning for the Cardinals. Nationals starter Dan Haren rebounded from there, allowing just one earned run and two hits in the next four innings.
Haren, the right-hander who signed a one-year deal with the Nationals in the offseason, gave up five earned runs and six hits in five innings. He has a 5.79 ERA in four spring starts.
``That was just one of those days, man,' Haren said. ``I felt like I was throwing a weighted ball out there. It was just bad all the way around. As I went along it was a little bit better, but my first couple starts were far and away better than this.
``I don't know if it's dead arm or I don't even know what that is, I just didn't feel great.'
Former pitcher Micah Owings had another solid day at the plate for Washington as he continues to try and make the switch from the mound to full-time position player. Owings, who will likely start the year at Triple-A, hit a grand slam Thursday and went 2 for 2 Friday. He's hitting .429 (9-for-21).
The 30-year-old Owings is a career .283 hitter with nine home runs in 205 at_bats in six big league seasons.
``He's had a great spring,' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ``I'm really impressed by him. He had a rough start with some injuries and a few things along the way but he's been fun to watch and it's fun seeing him play and to give him an opportunity.
``He thinks like a hitter as a pitcher and he's got tremendous power and he's aggressive. Those are the things you'd like to see for a young hitter.'
Matt Carpenter had two more hits for the Cardinals to improve his batting average to .417 this spring. He started at third base Friday but will see plenty of time at second base in the regular season.
Edward Mujica and Jason Motte both had scoreless innings out of the Cardinals' bullpen. Both have struggled this spring, with Mujica posting a 15.00 ERA in six appearances coming in.
Wainwright allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings against the Nationals in his second start of the spring on March 2. But he lowered his ERA to 2.76 with another solid outing Friday.
And he appears ready for opening day, thanks in part to the fan he might never meet again.
``I don't know it was,' Wainwright said. ``There were a couple pictures that day. The first one I kind of glimpsed at and I didn't look the same and then the second one, I really studied it and I'm like alright, I'm not there right now. My arm feels very good. It feels solid. My delivery feels solid for the first time in a long, long time. I'm excited.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved