ST. LOUIS -- The violent motion that produces Adam Wainwright's curveball is responsible for an injury more common to rock climbers clinging to cliffs than pitchers. The St. Louis Cardinals' ace has been sidelined nearly a month waiting for a ruptured tendon in the middle finger of his right hand to heal, and is unlikely to return until after the All-Star break.
"I think it was just something freaky that happened," Wainwright said. "Just one snap of the wrist. It happens to about one guy a year, they said."
The 26-year-old Wainwright inherited the No. 1 starting spot when Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder opened the season on the 15-day disabled list, just as he stepped in as the closer for Jason Isringhausen in the 2006 World Series. He's excelled at both, winning 14 games last year and getting the strikeout that finished off the Tigers in five games in '06.
For now, he's watching while the Cardinals attempt to fill one of their many pitching voids. Mulder made his season debut with an inning of relief on Monday, Joel Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer have had to work through injuries, Isringhausen was sidelined for a month by mechanical issues combined with a loss of confidence, and Matt Clement is seemingly forever rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
Wainwright has been sidelined since June 7, when he felt a pop in the sixth inning of a game in Houston with a 2-2 count on Darin Erstad. The Cardinals were one game above .500 without him, and 11 games above .500 overall, heading into Wednesday night's game against the Mets.
"What Adam's going through, it's what we're going through with all of these guys," manager Tony La Russa said. "I think it's step by step and you can't predict too far ahead because you don't know how it's going to respond.
"Just be glad," he added, "that he's starting the process."
Despite his lengthy absence, Wainwright is fourth on the team in innings and second in strikeouts while going 6-3 with a 3.14 ERA in 13 starts.
"It could be worse," Wainwright said. "But it is frustrating to know everything is healthy maybe except for a stupid little finger."
Wainwright said he was ahead of schedule, noting that a large splint was removed several days ago. He hopes to resume throwing on Monday pending a favorable MRI exam that day, and has been able to keep the rest of his body in shape during the layoff while mimicking his throwing motion with the aid of an exercise band.
To keep his hand strong, he squeezes soft putty several times a day.
"I don't want to have a setback, but I'm definitely not going to take my sweet time," Wainwright said. "I'm going to do everything I can to get back as soon as I can."
The staff's success without him eases the mental burden. Kyle Lohse is among the league leaders with 10 wins, Braden Looper was 9-5 in his second year as a starter, Wellemeyer is 7-3 with a 3.86 ERA in his first full year as a starter and rookie Mitchell Boggs is 3-0 in four career starts.
"The team's been doing awesome," Wainwright said. "It speaks to the heart of the team, no doubt about it. It doesn't matter who's out there, everybody's going to play hard."