Nats battle Wainwright's curveball yet again

Nats battle Wainwright's curveball yet again
October 12, 2012, 3:00 pm

Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright is starting to get to know the Nationals pretty well these days.

On Friday in Game 5 of the NLDS, Wainwright will be making his third consecutive start against Washington. He recently faced them on Sept. 28 at Nats Park in the regular season and in Game 1 of the Division Series in St. Louis on Monday.

Each of Wainwright’s previous starts against the team were strong as in both games he allowed just one earned run in at least 5 2/3 innings pitched. His line against the Nats over the last two games is 1-0 with a 1.61 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.

In Game 1 alone Wainwright struck out 10 Nationals, which was the most for a Cardinals pitcher in the playoffs since Bob Gibson in 1968. His curveball was particularly sharp as nine of the 10 strikeouts came on Nats batters swinging and missing at the pitch. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Danny Espinosa all went down swinging twice in the game on Wainwright’s curveball.

Washington was able to win after Wainwright was relieved, but afterwards much was made of the shadows at Busch Stadium by Nationals players. Adam LaRoche in particular explained that the shadows made it difficult to pick up spin on pitches. He said as a result, players were more likely to chase balls out of the zone. Without a strikeout in the game, LaRoche was probably speaking for his teammates.

Nationals Park can present its own problems with sunlight and shadows, but Game 5 has an 8:37 p.m. scheduled start. Whatever advantage Wainwright might have gained by the shadows, if indeed there was one, will not exist on Friday night.

Wainwright was sharp in Game 1, however, and has built an excellent reputation in the postseason. After his start on Monday, the Cardinals right-hander now holds a 0.77 career ERA in the playoffs. He has proven across 11 postseason appearances that Game 1’s strikeout party wasn’t an aberration either. In 23 1/3 playoff innings Wainwright has struck out 32 batters.

The Nationals took Game 1 with Wainwright on the mound, but they may need to score more than one run on him to get the win. And if Wainwright’s curveball is working as it was on Monday, that may be no easy task.