The former Cy Young candidate who has returned to the Cardinals after missing the 2011 championship season with Tommy John surgery is 0-3 with a 9.88 ERA after Thursday afternoon’s loss to Cincinnati, and it leaves one to guess what’s going on with the hurler who had great stuff in 2010 and appeared to pick up where he left off when he performed in spring training last month.

The start to his inaugural season as manager has been a smooth sailing for Mike Matheny.


St. Louis’ rookie skipper has hit a couple of waves, but it’s been nothing serious — like the injury to Lance Berkman, Matt Carpenter has been a prime player off the bench.


But the rough tide that could rock Matheny’s boat is the outings Adam Wainwright has had on the mound for the Redbirds.


The former Cy Young candidate who has returned to the Cardinals after missing the 2011 championship season with Tommy John surgery is 0-3 with a 9.88 ERA after Thursday afternoon’s loss to Cincinnati, and it leaves one to guess what’s going on with the hurler who had great stuff in 2010 and appeared to pick up where he left off when he performed in spring training last month.


This is where the manager comes in. This is where decisions are tested. This is where experience and knowledge could mean a win or a loss for the Cardinals when Waino’s spot in the rotation comes up.


Matheny clearly has a problem to solve. Why isn’t Wainwright up to par? Why aren’t Wainwright’s outings as good as they were before? Obviously as a former catcher, this shouldn’t be an issue for the manager, but making sure his pitcher has confidence on the mound, making sure his pitcher stays focused — that could be baseball’s youngest manager’s first challenge to tackle.


Starting off the season with a loss isn’t any pitcher’s intention, but hey, you can’t win them all. Going 0-2, you start to get mad at how you performed, you push it out of your mind and hang onto the positives for your next outing. But now that Waino’s 0-3, it’s bad. And it’s not because he doesn’t have a win, it’s not because his ERA is near 10. Wainwright being 0-3 is now a psychological burden for him and Matheny needs to be prepared in both a supportive role and a managerial role.


A supportive role is a given. He needs to be the man who supplies No. 50 with positivity and guidance. With pitching coach Derek Lilliquist sharing those responsibilities, restoring Wainwright’s mindset shouldn’t be as tough as it would be if someone was doing it alone. It’s not going to be easy. As hard as Wainwright is going to work at not letting his current statistics get to him, he’s still a ballplayer, and when a ballplayer gets down on his luck — pitchers in this example — every walk, every close pitch that’s called a ball, every curve ball, fastball, slider, etc., that isn’t executed the way he wants it to is going to weigh heavy on his mind. Wainwright is very quickly getting to the point, if he isn’t there already, where he’ll be analyzing every single thing he does and if something goes wrong, his confidence will crumble. It’s natural, and handled properly it goes away, if not Waino’s outings will be shadowed with the phrase “when it rains, it pours,” because nothing will seem to be going right.


This is where Matheny comes in. So Wainwright’s confidence isn’t crushed, so Wainwright doesn’t get stressed so easily over a rough start to 2012, Matheny needs to have another pitcher ready to go at the first hint of lack of focus or control. This way Waino can be pulled, no stress is accrued and the Cardinals don’t have a tough climb in an attempt to win. If it were me, I’d have Kyle McClellan on standby.


I like Matheny’s drive and determination, so I’m confident he’ll work hard to get his pitcher out of the dumps, but how the manager does it — well that’s where I’m the most curious.


Dominic Genetti writes for the Hannibal Courier-Post.