Carpenter is slated to make his 2012 season debut next week
Chris Carpenter was expected to serve as a cheerleader from the St. Louis Cardinals dugout this season, but surprisingly he is slated to make his season debut next week, and just in time as his club is trying to hold off the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies in the race for the National League’s second wild card
Now 37, Carpenter started for the Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series last October. In spring training – after throwing 273.1 innings the year before (including 237.1 in the regular season and 36 frames in the postseason – he was sidelined after encountering numbness and weakness in his shoulder, arm and neck.
Following a three-month period of rest, Carpenter attempted to pitch again, but he didn’t feel right and visited a Dallas-area specialist who recommended surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome. During the procedure on July 19, Carpenter’s top rib was removed along two of the connecting muscles to free nerves, and scar tissue was also taken out. He was projected to miss the entire 2012 season, and there was no guarantee he would be healthy enough to pitch in 2013, the final year of a deal that pays him $10.5 million a year.
The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, whose career has been derailed by a myriad of injuries, has been throwing simulated games to work his way back to the Cardinals’ rotation. If all goes well in a 90-pitch simulated game slated for Saturday, Carpenter could make as many as three starts for St. Louis before the end of the regular season.
At 76-68, the Cardinals have a two-game lead for the second wild card over Los Angeles, a three-game advantage over Pittsburgh and a four-game cushion over Philadelphia. With Jake Westbrook out with a strained oblique, the St. Louis rotation could use a veteran arm. Left-hander Jaime Garcia has struggled this season, and rookie Lance Lynn was moved to the bullpen after an ineffective stretch of starts.
Last year, the Cardinals caught fire in September and took advantage of Atlanta’s collapse to claim the wild card on the last night of the regular season and eventually winning the World Series. This month, St. Louis is 5-7 and trying to fend off the suddenly healthy and confident Phillies, the retooled Dodgers and the young Pirates. Carpenter’s unexpected return gives the Cardinals a frontline starter whose presence is desperately needed.