KANSAS CITY -- The season start was bumpy and the initial expectations likely too lofty, but Adam Wainwright appears to have found his way through.
His recent results -- including a third straight seven-inning start in the Cardinals' 8-2 win over the Royals on Saturday -- highlight not a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, but one recovered from it. And for the Cards, whose rotation appears to be righting itself, such a shift is huge.
A crowd of 37,240 at Kauffman Stadium watched Wainwright handcuff the Royals for the second time in a week. After limiting Kansas City to one run last weekend, Wainwright was a misplayed fly ball away from shutting out St. Louis' I-70 Series opponents this time.
"He grabs the ball right now and he knows in his mind that he's going to execute exactly what he wants to do," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think he was very hopeful early on. I don't think he was quite convinced, no matter what he was saying. But now you can see it. That's the pitcher that was dominant in the past."
The Royals managed just three baserunners through the first five innings. None made it to second. In the meantime, behind another balanced offensive attack, the Cardinals' offense staked Wainwright to a cushy lead.
This wasn't isolated dominance for Wainwright, though, and that is what is particularly encouraging. After all the incremental steps he took in April and May, Wainwright has recently discovered consistency.
"I'm confident that what I'm doing right now will work," he said. "I don't know if it's at the point where I look and say that I'm the same guy now that I was. But the pitches I'm taking out there and the pitcher that I am, I'm just fine."
Wainwright scattered only 16 hits over his last 21 innings, with six of those hits falling on Saturday. He would not have allowed a pair of earned runs had Jon Jay correctly tracked a fly ball in the sixth.
But even with those two runs on his final line, Wainwright's outing sets his ERA over his last eight starts at 3.02. It was 6.16 through his first seven. The right-hander has given up two or fewer earned runs in seven of his last 10 games.
"He's pitching like the ace that he is," said outfielder Matt Holliday, who backed Wainwright with four hits. "We all knew that with him, once he got his confidence and his feel that he would be the Adam of two years ago."
Confidence in execution isn't the only recent revelation. Wainwright is enjoying a newfound feel for his slider, too, which once again makes him a four-pitch threat.
He also points to the bullpen session he threw before his May 22 complete game as the turning point. In addition to making an adjustment with his arm slot that day, Wainwright said he found a new mental toughness.
"There was a stretch to begin the season when I was trying to do all these different things like I had before," Wainwright said. "Mentally, I just wasn't as mean as I wanted to be out there. I wasn't as relentless as I wanted to be out there."
Wainwright, who has not been the beneficiary of generous run support this year, enjoyed a change of fortunes in this one. A day after banging out 17 hits, the Cardinals recorded 16. The two-day total set a season high.
The Cards have 16 hits with runners in scoring position so far this series after tallying that many in their previous 11 games combined.
Seeking renewed life from the top of his lineup, Matheny watched Rafael Furcal collect two hits for the third time in four games. Furcal scored two of the team's first three runs, drove in another and reached base four times.
"He's a spark plug for this offense and for this team," Matheny said. "It's good to get him going."
Behind Furcal, the recently-returned Jay had his own multi-hit performance. Jay scored once and drove home a run as the Cards strung together five straight singles in a three-run fifth.
And batting in the three-hole, Holliday was in the middle of everything. His third-inning single drove home the Cardinals' first run. Holliday and Carlos Beltran had RBI hits in the fifth. Not long removed from an extended power drought, Holliday has pushed his batting average to a season-high .297.
Royals starter Luis Mendoza was chased after allowing four runs in 4 1/3 innings.
"The pitches that they ended up hitting, they weren't horrible pitches," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "They just found holes."
Also breaking on Saturday was Allen Craig, whose two-run homer off Royals reliever Greg Holland in the seventh came on the heels of a 2-for-22 drought. Craig's ninth home run of the year put the Cardinals up, 7-2, and pushed his RBI total to 30 in 32 games.
Wainwright's only hiccup came in the sixth, when two runs scored on two hits -- both of which were within Jay's reach. When Wainwright got into trouble an inning later, he punctuated his outing by striking out Royals catcher Humberto Quintero with two in scoring position and two out.
The pitch was the right-hander's 109th and final one of the afternoon. Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte followed with clean innings.
The win improved the Cardinals' Interleague record to 7-7, including a 3-2 mark against the Royals. A victory on Sunday would also give the Cardinals their first sweep since May 21-23.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.