The anticipation for Wainwright's return is palpable, even though Wainwright has tried to downplay the significance all spring.
"It really is a big deal," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I'm probably going to have a few butterflies before that game even starts, just knowing how hard he's worked to get to where he is. He's a tremendous talent, and now that he's back to where he is, I think tomorrow is just going to be a taste of what he's capable of doing as he moves forward."
While Saturday will mark the end of Wainwright's recovery from Tommy John surgery, it also marks the beginning of a season that contains some unknowns. Manager Mike Matheny reiterated on Friday that he intends to treat Wainwright as "just another pitcher." Truth is, Wainwright's not.
Both Mozeliak and Matheny disputed any notion that the club might limit Wainwright's innings early in the season so the right-hander would be assured of pitching into October. The Cardinals will be cautious, though, and decisions on how long to let Wainwright stay on the mound will largely be determined by how strenuous his innings are in any given start.
The expectation is that the Cardinals will keep Wainwright under the 200-inning threshold this season, though no firm number has been set.
"I think it's more reading him than going off a number," Matheny said. "I think he wants us to view him as another one of our five starters. It's getting him out there and seeing how it goes as opposed to having any preconceived ideas."