Wainwright threw off a mound on Tuesday for the first time since sustaining a sprain in his right middle finger. The 40-pitch session went well, and it should be followed by a similar effort on Thursday. If Wainwright has his way, he may only have two or three more bullpen sessions, followed by a couple of rehabilitation starts, before he returns to the St. Louis starting rotation.
"Best case, I think 2 1/2 weeks maybe," Wainwright said when asked about a timetable for his return to active duty.
"From what they told me, I think that should be about the time. But I'm not in charge, and I'm just going to have to go based on how my finger reacts."
The right-hander threw fastballs and changeups, but no curveballs, during his session at Busch Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. He estimated his effort level at about 75 percent, but said his arm is in good enough condition that he could have exerted himself much more than that.
"I think my arm strength is very good right now," Wainwright said. "I think I could throw the ball as hard as I wanted to. I'm just not allowed to yet. So it's just a matter of testing it, and strengthening my finger, because it's still got a little ways to go."
If Wainwright were to return in 2 1/2 weeks, that would place his first start at a most opportune time -- during the Cardinals' Aug. 8-10 series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Wainwright claimed ignorance of the timing, but be sure the Cards would love to have him in Chicago if at all possible. Whether it's that series or another soon after, though, Wainwright does not expect to make many rehab starts in the Minors.
"I don't think so," he said. "I don't think I'll need to. But you never know about those things."
The rapid timetable in Wainwright's mind might seem to suggest a return as something other than a starter. And the idea of Wainwright returning to relief has been floated in some quarters around St. Louis. But Wainwright batted away that notion when it was brought up on Tuesday.
"No," he said with a dismissive laugh. "No. That [is] illogical."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.