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10/07/09 9:24 PM EST

Hawksworth draws parallels to Wainwright

Highly rated prospect struggles, climbs ladder to success

LOS ANGELES -- As Cardinals fans saw Blake Hawksworth go from starting pitching prospect to mopup man to more and more trusted late-inning reliever, many couldn't help thinking of a somewhat similar path taken by Adam Wainwright three years earlier. Wainwright can't blame them: he noticed the same thing.

Cardinals at a glance
2009 record: 91-71
2008 record: 86-76
NL Central champs

McClellan: Hometown boy
Cards: Shaking off walk-off
Ludwick: Dream fulfilled
Hawksworth: On way up
Ryan: Playing it cool
Pujols: Ready for fun stuff
Wainwright: Proud, durable
Holliday: Kids' play
Pujols: Triple Crown?
La Russa: 14th postseason
Carpenter: Heart of staff
Pujols: Eschewing rest
Holliday: A perfect fit
Carpenter: Ready to go
La Russa: Getting proactive
Wainwright: Apt pupil
Pujols: His place in history?
Pujols: The evolution
Holliday: Offensive spark
La Russa: Controls fate
Pujols: MVP No. 3?
Wainwright: Mr. Consistent
La Russa: Winning cures all
Carpenter: A go Game 1
Holliday: Big impact
Wainwright: Cy in cards?

Hawksworth hasn't had the kind of impact that Wainwright did in 2006, and he won't be closing games in the playoffs like Wainwright did. But as for how he got on the Cardinals' playoff roster, it's easy to see the similarities.

Both were highly rated prospects early in their career, and both struggled a bit on the way up the ladder. When they arrived in the Majors, both started out as the last man in the bullpen but pitched well enough to receive higher and higher profile assignments.

It's been a breakout year for Hawksworth. He posted a 6.09 ERA at Triple-A Memphis last year, and it was an open question how much longer he'd even be on the Cardinals' radar. But his persistence finally paid off. Hawksworth was in his eighth Minor League season when he finally got the call to the Majors.

"I never really questioned my stuff," he said. "It's just that the results weren't there. It gets to a point where you pretty much have to take things upon yourself and change your approach and your work ethic.

"I tried to do that from Day 1 in spring on, not stop, whether it's here or Memphis. Just keep the same routine and same approach on the mound, and it's helped."

No one is saying that Hawksworth is going to become a front-of-the-rotation starter like Wainwright. But he has some of the same traits, most notably an unflappability that has served him very well as a rookie. The hope is that it will suit him even more now that he's on his first playoff roster.

Eschewing Experience
The Cardinals have nine available relievers for Games 1 and 2, but only four have appeared in a postseason game.
Name Playoff appearances Playoff innings
Mitchell Boggs 0 0
Ryan Franklin 0 0
Blake Hawksworth 0 0
Kyle Lohse 6 13 1/3
Kyle McClellan 0 0
Trever Miller 9 3
Jason Motte 0 0
Dennys Reyes 2 1
John Smoltz 40 207

"I see a lot of myself in him," Wainwright said. "He's attacking the hitter now. He wasn't doing that last year. His swagger on the mound is a 180 difference than it was. So I'm proud of him, where he's come from. And he battled through it and he's battled through injuries to be where he's at. It's awesome."

At the start of Spring Training, Hawksworth was a long shot even to see any significant time with the big league club this year. But he pitched superbly in the spring, catching the eye of the field staff. When he earned his first promotion to the Majors, he seized the opportunity. Now he's on the playoff roster, hoping to contribute to a deep October run.

"People can look at how this whole thing has kind of gone down and be a little surprised to see where I was this time last year, to now," Hawksworth said. "But I just feel blessed to be a part of it, and I'm ready for this whole thing to kick off. No more meetings and talk and media, let's go play."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.