Rosenthal: Adam Wainwright uses arts and crafts to motivate Cardinals; plus Ohtani, Dodgers and more

Adam Wainwright put his time on the injured list to good use, and not simply by rehabilitating his strained groin. No, Wainwright also embarked upon a broader mission, working feverishly to hone one of his previously undisclosed talents:

Arts and crafts.

Making like a teacher preparing a presentation, Wainwright scrawled on a series of poster boards some of the Cardinals’ poor monthly records of the past. Upon rejoining the club, he stood in front of his teammates and went through the boards one by one, concluding with his final message, complete with lights:

“Win the World Series. Any questions…”

(Ken Rosenthal / The Athletic)

Wainwright’s point: Any team can have a bad month. The Cardinals did in April, going 10-18 and then, at the start of May, descending further to 10-24. But as Wainwright wrote on perhaps his most compelling board, the 2006 Cardinals went 9-16 in June and 12-17 in September … and won the World Series.

What inspired Wainwright, 41, to turn professorial?

“I got a little bored,” Wainwright said on the FOX broadcast Saturday. “My family was in Georgia. I was here all by myself. Our team was out west in California. We were struggling for wins and I just thought, ‘I wonder how atypical our month that we’re having right now is from every other season?’

“It turns out almost every team has a month during the season when they have a losing record of some sort. I pointed out that it’s a little atypical that we started that way, very atypical. But it’s not atypical to have a losing month during the season.

“If you just consider that’s the bad month and you move on to play great baseball from there on, you get your bad month out of the way. It’s all good sailing from there.”

The Cardinals, who have won 12 of their last 16 games, appear to be taking Wainwright’s words to heart. He might not win the NL Cy Young Award this season. But he’s the early front-runner for a somewhat less prestigious honor:

Best art project.

(Ken Rosenthal / The Athletic)

Will the Cardinals go for it, or not?

For all of the Cardinals’ early angst, which included their public controversies involving outfielder Tyler O’Neill and catcher Willson Contreras, I was serious when I said on Saturday’s broadcast that I would not be surprised if they win the feeble NL Central by 10 games.

The larger question, perhaps, is the approach the Cardinals will take at the trade deadline. Will they be content again simply to win the division? Or will they make a push to return to the World Series for the first time since 2013?

The Cardinals’ competitive window might be starting to close. Wainwright plans to retire after this season. Righty Jack Flaherty and lefty Jordan Montgomery are headed to free agency. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is eligible to hit the market after next season.

Starting pitching is the Cardinals’ biggest need. Top-of-the-rotation types figure to be scarce. The Brewers, if they trade righty Corbin Burnes, likely will want to send him anywhere but St. Louis. Tigers lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will be an option, but in heavy demand. Ditto for righty Dylan Cease, if the White Sox even make him available.

The Cardinals, as currently constructed, stand a reasonable chance of making their 10th postseason appearance in the past 13 years. But the Phillies upset them in the Wild Card round last season in part because they had Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. A similar fate might await the Cardinals again.

Trying to figure out Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Angels right-hander Shohei Ohtani again has increased the use of his sweeper this season while continuing a two-year trend of throwing his splitter less. Which raises the question: With free agency less than six months away, is he trying to protect his arm?

The split, Ohtani’s best pitch by run value in 2021, is harder on the arm than the sweeper, his best pitch in ‘22. But over the past three seasons, the usages of those pitches have gone in opposite directions:

Split Sweeper










Perhaps Ohtani is starting to reverse the pattern: In his past two starts, he has thrown his highest percentages of splitters this season. On Sunday against the Twins, he used the pitch a season-high 16 times, including eight the first two innings. He also threw 27 sweepers.

“Nothing much to it. I just felt like throwing it. That’s why I threw it,” Ohtani told The Athletic’s Sam Blum via his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “Same with the sweeper. I felt like throwing it. That’s why I threw it so much.”

One other note on Ohtani: The average velocity of his four-seam fastball, the pitch he throws most frequently after the sweeper, is about the same as it was last season. The velocities on his split and cutter, however, are down nearly a mile per hour.

TA in L.A.? Maybe, maybe not

On the latest installment of The Athletic’s “Starkville” podcast, I mentioned that White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson “looks like a Dodger to me.” My inference was that Anderson makes sense as a logical trade target for the Dodgers, but on second thought, I might have spoken too soon.

First, the slew of injuries to the Dodgers’ starting rotation might make them more inclined to focus their trade discussions on a starting pitcher. In addition, Anderson isn’t necessarily an ideal fit. His defensive metrics the past two seasons have been poor, with injuries perhaps contributing to his decline, and he rarely walks.

Anderson, who turns 30 next month, knows he needs to improve his plate discipline. Unless he is slugging, his offensive value is diminished. And this season, he has yet to hit a home run in 127 at-bats.

Of course, Anderson still could tick upward; he was out from April 11 to May 2 with a sprained left knee and told The Athletic’s James Fegan, “Once I get going, the sky is the limit.” Dodgers third base coach Dino Ebel, right fielder Mookie Betts and catcher Will Smith saw him at his best during the World Baseball Classic, when Anderson mostly played second base for Team USA. And ultimately, the Dodgers might want him as part of a package from the White Sox. Anderson and Cease, perhaps? Anderson and Liam Hendriks?

Check back in 10 weeks.

More on the Dodgers

• Had a fun exchange with Mookie Betts when I asked him why it is so much easier on his body to play shortstop than right field. Betts pointed from the Dodgers’ dugout to right field and told me to count the steps back and forth, 18 times. Then he pointed from the dugout to shortstop and told me to count those steps, 18 times. Then he said, “You take four steps to the right for a groundball, 30 steps to the left for a flyball. It’s just simple math!”

• Freddie Freeman, who hit his 300th home run last Thursday, is now 32 hits short of 2,000. The hit milestone, he told me over the weekend, will be even more meaningful to him than the home-run mark. “I love hits,” he said. “I’m just a hits guy.” He added that he would rather go 3-for-4 with three singles than 1-for-4 with a homer, believing it is more helpful to his team.

• Reliever Evan Phillips was one of four Dodgers who went on paternity leave in late April, but the arrival of his son, Beau, was a surprise, coming seven weeks early. Evan’s wife, Liz, texted him when the Dodgers were 20 minutes from landing in Chicago, saying her water had broken. Max Muncy’s wife, Kellie, took Liz to the hospital. Evan boarded the first commercial flight back to L.A. the following morning, and was present for Beau’s birth just before midnight on April 20.

Pitching factory in Seattle

The Dodgers are perhaps the industry leader in developing starting pitching. The Astros, Braves, Guardians and Marlins also excel in that area. But perhaps no team at the moment has a more dominant homegrown trio than the Mariners.

Right-handers Logan Gilbert, 26, George Kirby, 25, and rookie Bryce Miller, 24, have a combined 2.85 ERA in 135 2/3 innings, along with 132 strikeouts and 17 walks. As if that’s not impressive enough, two other promising righties, Bryan Woo and Emerson Hancock, could make their debuts this season.

The Mariners, under amateur scouting director Scott Hunter, drafted each out of college, and didn’t miss:

  • Gilbert, 14th overall, 2018
  • Kirby, 20th overall, 2019
  • Hancock, sixth overall, 2020
  • Miller, fourth round, 2021
  • Woo, sixth round, 2021

“It is really hard to develop one All-Star level starting pitcher on your own, have it come through the draft and development,” Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said. “For us to have three in the big leagues now that we think are that quality with more guys behind them is insane.”

The next question for the Mariners is whether they would trade pitching for offensive help, considering they are 14th in the majors in runs per game. Well, they were not afraid to part with young pitching in two deals with the Reds over the past 14 months.

Brandon Williamson and Connor Phillips, their second and third-round picks in 2019 and ‘20, were part of the deal for Eugenio Suárez and Jesse Winker. Righty Levi Stoudt, their third-rounder in ‘19, was included in the package for Luis Castillo.

Here’s what makes the Mariners’ position even more intriguing: They hold the 22nd, 29th and 30th selections in this year’s draft, giving them the ability to add further pitching depth just prior to the deadline.

The 22nd pick was their regular first-round choice, based on their finish last season. They received the 29th pick under the prospect promotion incentive program after they included Julio Rodríguez on their Opening Day roster and he won AL Rookie of the Year. The 30th pick is the first choice of the Competitive Balance A round, a pick they earned by finishing with the best record of the teams in that round.

“You need to be a trendsetter”

Brandon Pfaadt (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

Speaking of young pitchers, the Diamondbacks are going with three rookie starters, one of whom, right-hander Brandon Pfaadt, draws special praise from club officials for his uncommon maturity.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo relates a story from when Pfaadt (pronounced fawt) first got called up to Triple A last season. Pfaadt, 24, would take notes in the dugout during games, but tried to conceal what he was doing. Lovullo heard about this and asked Pfaadt if it was true.

“He told me it was,” Lovullo said. “I asked him why he hid it and he mentioned to me that he didn’t want to be embarrassed.

“I told him that will be the last time he does that and he needs to become a trendsetter. I mentioned also that it is a very mature way to prep, it’s what I have seen the best starting pitchers in the game do often and that from now on it’s what I will expect him to be doing every time I look down his way. So far, he’s been consistently doing it.”

Pfaadt, the Diamondbacks’ fifth-round pick out of Bellarmine (Ky.) University in 2020, struggled in his first two starts but showed improvement in his last two. With Zach Davies close to returning from a strained left oblique, the team likely will need to make a move with one of its rookie pitchers, Pfaadt, Tommy Henry or Ryne Nelson

Around the horn

• Did the Mariners part with too much for right fielder Teoscar Hernández? Righty Erik Swanson was excelling in relief for the Blue Jays until a recent slide, and lefty Adam Macko is the team’s No. 14 prospect, according to The Athletic’s Keith Law. And one week after the Mariners completed that trade last November, the Angels acquired a comparable walk-year right fielder, Hunter Renfroe, for three relatively undistinguished pitchers.

Renfroe, 31, is a year older than Hernández, and his offensive track record was not as strong. Then again, he had better defensive metrics, and his salary this season is $11.9 million, as opposed to Hernández’s $14 million. Most important, he is outperforming Hernández thus far.

Obviously, the perceptions of both trades can flip, particularly when the season is not even one-third complete. In the meantime, the Mariners can celebrate a trade that did work out — their acquisition of infielder José Caballero in a salary dump of pitcher Mike Leake at the 2019 deadline. As The Athletic’s Corey Brock writes, Caballero has essentially taken over second base from Kolten Wong, another of the Mariners’ additions last offseason.

• Before this season, Fernando Tatis Jr. had played only 20 games in right field. But according to the leading defensive metrics, he already ranks among the game’s top defenders at the position.

On May 10, Tatis uncorked a 100 mph throw to nail Carlos Correa at home plate. He also enjoys using athleticism to cut off balls in the gap, saying, “I bring something different to the outfield. I’m a shortstop out there.”

• Don’t look now, but is it possible Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin is pitching well enough to become a trade candidate, even though he is owed the balance of his $24 million salary this season and $35 million in 2024?

The Nationals obviously would need to include significant cash, probably in the tens of millions to move Corbin, who turns 34 in July. But Corbin’s recent performance, at least, is encouraging.

After opening the season with a 7.71 ERA in his first three starts, Corbin has averaged more than six innings in his last seven outings, pitching to a 3.40 ERA. He is better executing his fastball and changeup, no longer needing to rely as heavily on his slider.

• Following discussions between the Marlins and Major League Baseball officials, additional padding will be added to the portions of the outfield wall at loanDepot Park that include exposed cement block.

Marlins center fielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. injured his right big toe on the cement block May 13 while trying to make an inning-ending catch. His goal is to return for a series against the White Sox in Chicago from June 9 to 11.

(Top photo of Adam Wainwright: Joe Puetz / Getty Images)