ST. LOUIS - I'm going to do my very best not to discuss Stephen Strasburg during the Nationals' playoff run.
The story, as Strasburg would tell you, is not about him right now. He's been shut down, won't pitch in the postseason and will spend his time during games watching from the bench.
But as Strasburg looks out to the mound at Busch Stadium later this afternoon, he'll see a guy who has gone through a lot of the same stuff that he has.
Last season, while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright was relegated to the bench as his teammates went on that miraculous postseason run. As they went on to win Games 6 and 7 of the World Series to bring
"During the time, I felt like I was a huge impact to that team," Wainwright said. "I'm not so sure I did anything. But I tricked myself into believing I was pretty important last year. I felt like I was there for anybody who needed me, at whatever level that was. Nothing else to do, right? But looking back on it, it really hits me when autograph seekers hand me a ball and it's a 2011 World Series ball, and then they take it back and say, 'No, no, sign this one instead.' That's when it hits that I really didn't get to do a whole lot."
This season, Wainwright returned, but he struggled out of the gate. The first month, he says, he "was an embarrassment to this team and to the game of baseball. I've never felt so lost on the mound in my entire life."
Early on, he went through some of what we saw from Strasburg over his final month or two - he didn't have his best fastball command, lacked a great feel for his secondary pitches and put up results which in his mind were far below what he expected of himself.
"I totally get now why Tommy John recovery is so hard," Wainwright said. "Just your arm just takes awhile to get back, it really does, and it's hard for me to say that because I thought I was going to be the exception to the rule. But it takes a while. I'm feeling very confident now, though, about it."
What will the Nats see from Wainwright today? "The kitchen sink," Bryce Harper said.
After the All-Star break, Wainwright posted a 3.28 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .240 batting average. He still isn't throwing at the level he was before the Tommy John surgery - a level which saw him win a combined 39 games between 2009-2010 and finish second in the Cy Young voting in 2010, but the Nats saw first-hand that he can still get the job done, as Wainwright held them to one run over six innings in his final regular season start on Sept. 28.
"I don't know that he was totally back, but he had good stuff," Adam LaRoche said. "I've seen Adam when he was throwing 94, 95. So whether he gets that back or not, I don't know. He's a warrior. He's just a pitcher out there. He gets it. You combine that with (Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina), he's got a really good idea of who's in the box and what they're trying to do as a hitter, it's two pretty smart guys.
"And Adam's got good stuff. I think a lot of it comes down to that curveball and how it's feeling on any given day. If he's getting that over in any count, he can be tough."