COMMENTARY | Prior to the start of spring training back in February of this year, the St. Louis Cardinals learned that they would be without the services of 38-year-old ace Chris Carpenter. The 6-foot-6-inch bulldog had been feeling some discomfort in his surgically repaired right shoulder while preparing for the 2013 season and decided to shut it down, citing long-term complications.
The ailment in Carpenter's shoulder stemmed from the injury and surgery he had in 2012 to repair a condition known as thoracic-output syndrome. Carpenter defied all odds by returning to the Cardinals' rotation after just two months of recovery and pitched in three regular-season and three playoff games at the end of 2012.
Many believed at the time that Carpenter's career was indeed over when the announcement was made prior to spring training, but the ace never admitted that he was "retired" and now we know why.
Carpenter, who was the ace of the staff on the Cardinals' 2006 and 2011 World Series championship teams, is once again trying to make a comeback. According to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Carpenter threw another extended bullpen session on Monday at Busch Stadium, his second since Friday, and plans on going on an extended rehab assignment if his arm and shoulder continues to feel well enough to continue.
While the Carpenter comeback is yet another nice story to follow, and so is his newly revealed curly hair, his attempt to return to this year's team should be looked at more closely.
In 2012, everyone assumed that Carpenter would return to his Cy Young Award-winning form and, unfortunately, he was anything but. The results were not good. During his September cameo with the Cardinals, Carpenter posted an 0-2 record and a 3.71 ERA. The Cardinals lost all three of the games Carpenter pitched.
Although Carpenter was able to pick up a huge victory in the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals in a gutsy performance, the ace was beat around in two starts against the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series. Carpenter lost both starts and pitched just a combined eight innings.
Carpenter deserves a ton of credit and respect for returning to the mound just two months after having a rib removed from his body. He should receive plenty of accolades as the toughest man in baseball for even thinking about attempting to come back once again in 2013.
While Carpenter's comeback is valiant and his leadership and competitiveness can certainly help the club, it is unclear how much he can help the Cardinals on the mound considering how well the team is pitching through the season's first 38 games.
The Cardinals' starting rotation has been one of the best in all of baseball in 2013. Ace Adam Wainwright has already tossed two complete-game shutouts. Lance Lynn, who won 18 games and was selected to the National League All-Star team in 2012 as Carpenter's replacement in the rotation, is already 6-1 in 2013.
Jaime Garcia is throwing the ball well with a 4-2 record, and rookie phenom Shelby Miller, who is 5-2 with a 1.58 ERA, looks like he is going to fulfill his potential as a projected ace sooner rather later.
Even Jake Westbrook has pitched well this season before landing on the disabled list over the weekend. But his replacement, rookie left-hander John Gast, was immediately able to step in and pick up the victory in his MLB debut on May 14.
The starting rotation looks solid and there may not be room for Carpenter at this time, which is likely why the veteran told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 5 that he would consider a move to the Cardinals' once ailing bullpen.
The problem is, after the promotions of super-phenom Carlos Martinez and the ever-efficient Seth Maness, the bullpen has even stabilized to the point where it would be hard to change its chemistry. Plus, Carpenter has extremely limited experience as a reliever. He has only appeared in 18 games as a reliever during his 15-year career.
Having a guy like Chris Carpenter ready and healthy should never be considered a bad thing. His presence alone would likely provide the Cardinals with a spark if they needed it. An appearance on the mound would be uplifting.
But the Cardinals should only put him out there if they are sure he is not only 100-percent healthy, but also if they are 100-percent confident that his stuff gives them the best chance to win at his accelerated age and with his injury past. The Cardinals' pitching staff has been so good it would be hard to take the risk of sending Carpenter to the mound with less than his best stuff and see results similar to 2012.
You can follow Rudd on Twitter @CoreyRudd.
- Sports & Recreation
- Chris Carpenter