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Big League Stew

Chris Carpenter eases Cards’ stress levels in return to mound

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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Wednesday's schedule was relatively light on major league action, but that doesn't mean it was light on significance. That's especially true for the starting pitchers who took the ball in important tuneups for their assignments two weeks from now.

Without question the most important outing Wednesday happened in Lakeland, Fla., where the St. Louis Cardinals welcomed back Chris Carpenter to the mound.

Out since March 1 with a hamstring injury, Carpenter shook off some early rust and managed to throw 57 pitches while lasting into the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers. That alone would be a huge positive for a pitcher making only his second spring start, but the real story here is Carpenter's leg felt no worse for the wear despite being forced to run around covering first base and backing up home plate.

From MLB.com: {YSP:MORE}

"I was happy with it," Carpenter said. "I got stronger as the game went on, and my hamstring felt good. Obviously, I had to make some plays, so I was fine with that. I felt like my stuff got better as it went on. I felt more comfortable up there. So I'm looking forward to the next one."

The entire NL Central will be looking forward to that next one, which happens on March 21 against the Washington Nationals.

I don't think it could possibly be overstated how important Carpenter's health and effectiveness is to the Cardinals. Even with it, it's going to be difficult to fend off what should be an improved division at the top and in the middle. Without it, well, just be prepared for a new Albert Pujols rumor every couple of hours, because that's all they will have to talk about in St. Louis.

But again, the good news, for now, is that Wednesday's outing was an encouraging step towards having Carpenter primed and ready when the bell rings on April 1. And it could also serve as a temporary sedative for stressed-out Cardinals fans and front-office members who haven't had a good night's sleep since mid-February.

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