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Adam Wainwright loses third straight start

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MIAMI — It’s the perplexing and troubling question the Cardinals hoped they would never encounter, much less have to answer in the middle of a season. However, there is no avoiding their most prominent personnel query now after another lopsided loss: Will franchise icon Adam Wainwright toe the rubber and flick one of his air-bending curveballs again in his familiar No. 50 Cards uniform?

With questions already swirling about the 41-year-old Wainwright’s viability as a starter for a Cardinals club in desperation mode, the veteran pitcher took another pummeling in their 15-2 loss to the Marlins on Tuesday afternoon. And he is expected to head to the injured list, where he hopes to get some relief from persistent right shoulder irritation and the onslaught of hits and runs surrendered over his past three starts.

When, and more importantly if, Wainwright returns to the mound with the birds on the bat across his chest seems to be more in question than at any point over the past 18 seasons. Defiant as ever, Wainwright vowed a return this season before he retires his classic curveball and awaits a forever spot in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

“No, that’s not the end,” Wainwright said with piercing eyes and extra conviction.

On the heels of ugly losses to the Cubs (seven runs on 11 hits and one walk in three-plus innings), the Astros (six runs on six hits and three walks in 1 2/3 innings) and Marlins (seven runs [four earned] on seven hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings), Wainwright admitted that he has been dealing with discomfort and irritation in his pitching shoulder for a matter of weeks. He said that soreness has been a driving force behind the lack of late life on his tumbling curveball and his mid-80s fastball that has been repeatedly throttled of late.

Wainwright said he is confident that he’ll play again, in part because he’s been through worse — such as the day game in 2018 when he walked off the mound in San Diego unsure if he’d pitch again because of searing pain in his right elbow.

“I’ve come back from much worse. My arm was broken in ’18, and I came back and pitched almost five years more now,” said Wainwright, whose season ERA ballooned to 7.66 after Tuesday’s loss. “So, it’s nothing like that, but it is affecting my stuff. The scoreboard says that, and there’s no denying that and you can’t hide it. I can try to talk myself into anything. I’ve done that a lot and I’ve made a career out of it, but right now it’s not fair for me to put the team in that spot, and I need to get better.”

Marlins manager Skip Schumaker, who referred to Wainwright as “the most impactful person I’ve ever met in my life” for their time as teammates in St. Louis, was in San Diego and near tears when Wainwright left the mound in pain in 2018. On Tuesday, he felt badly watching one of his dearest friends struggle once again.

“I hate it,” Schumaker admitted. “I didn’t hate it today just because you’re a competitor, but I hate it for [Wainwright].

“You feel like he’s going to bounce back because of what he’s done in the game, but this is not how it should look being his last year,” Schumaker added. “I know what kind of competitor he is, and he feels as bad as anybody, because he’s a winner and a champion. I’m hoping he bounces back, because he doesn’t deserve to go out like that.”

This latest start offered little relief for Wainwright, who surrendered hits to five of the first six Marlins he faced, including a three-run homer to Jesús Sánchez. Wainwright did retire seven straight hitters at one point before disaster struck again. Garrett Cooper reached him for a solo homer in the third, and then Wainwright loaded the bases with a hit batter and two walks in the fourth before he was pulled from the game.

“We’re still pulling for him, supporting him and wanting to play our best while he’s pitching,” said shortstop Paul DeJong, a teammate of Wainwright’s since 2017. “It’s a tough stretch he’s going through, and we … want to just support him the best we can. He means so much to every guy in here because he’s [made] such a personable touch to each and every one of our careers. We think he’s a legend, and he deserves the chance to come back.”

Coming into the season with 195 career wins, Wainwright figured he’d have no problem becoming the third pitcher in franchise history to get to 200. Stuck on 198 wins for three starts, Wainwright simply hopes to be back in time to get two more victories.

“I’ll either come back and pitch great or I’ll be a great cheerleader,” he said. “The plan is I’m not giving up, and I still want to go out there and be great.”

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