Chris Carpenter worked his way back into our plans, and onto our sleeper lists, with his strong showing in spring training (1.52 ERA over 23.2 innings, 17 strikeouts), but it was hard to completely buy in on the comeback from elbow surgery until we saw a real start. Okay, I've seen one, it's time to get excited.
Carpenter took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Pittsburgh Thursday and finished the game with a glittering line (7 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K), and if anything the start was more impressive to the eye. He got plenty of sink and movement on his fastball and was able to throw it where he wanted. His curve was excellent. He got 10 ground-ball outs. If Carpenter is able to make 30 starts for the Cardinals this summer, this club becomes the NL Central favorite in my mind.
"It's what I've been saying all along: I felt normal all spring," Carpenter told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "My stuff has gotten better and better, I feel, each time out and today."
Carpenter's win didn't come easy Thursday, as the Cardinals didn't do a lot against Pittsburgh starter Ross Ohlendorf (just two runs). But on this afternoon the bullpen wasn't a problem: Ryan Franklin worked a perfect inning, and surprise closer Dennys Reyes cruised through the ninth, retiring the side on 11 pitches.
The save from Reyes – his first since 1999 – suggests the Cards are likely are moving to a closer by committee. With left-handers Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit waiting in the top of the ninth, it made sense for Tony La Russa to summon a southpaw from the pen. "That's the one advantage of not having a set closer," La Russa said. "You can play (with it). If there happens to be a team that stacks their lefthanders, you can go that way." I still anticipate a significant role for Jason Motte at the end of all this, but it doesn't look like he's going to get automatic ninth-inning love from the Cards anytime soon. And so it goes.
• Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is already in midseason form – the Indians and Rangers combined for 43 runs in their three-game set. The Tribe knocked five homers out of the yard Thursday (two for Grady Sizemore, one for each of their catchers and one for Travis Hafner) but it wasn't enough as the hosts rolled to 12 runs against Carl Pavano and a cast of thousands. I don't know how Brandon McCarthy (5 IP, 4 H, 3 R) is going to beat this park consistently, but he did strike out seven over five innings. Andruw Jones went 3-for-5 in his first Texas start, just to mess up the Texas lineup a little more.
• Matt Cain has been an interesting debate topic over the last couple of years; how much do you blame that ugly 15-30 record on him, and how much do you blame it on the supporting cast? Both sides held up their end of the bargain Thursday; Cain mowed down the Brewers over seven dominant innings (4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K) and the pesky Giants collected seven runs on their side. Emmanuel Burriss wasn't a part of the fun; he went hitless again and finished the series 0-for-10 with three strikeouts.
• Hong-Chih Kuo battled through shoulder and elbow tenderness during spring training and the Dodger don't want to use him in back-to-back games during the season. His absence might have cost LA a victory at San Diego Thursday, as Will Ohman and Cory Wade couldn't protect a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning and Clayton Kershaw's win got flushed in the process. Russell Martin looks like someone who could use a day off (he'll get it Friday); he went 1-for-5 and stranded nine runners, dropping his average to .125 on the young season. I'd like this Dodgers lineup more if Joe Torre put Andre Ethier back in front of Manny Ramirez, but no one's asked me recently.
• I don't think anyone expected Kyle Davies and John Danks to hook up in a dazzling pitcher's duel, but that's what went down on the South Side of Chicago (helped by a healthy wind blowing in); Danks scattered six baserunners over his six innings, and Davies was even better over seven frames (3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K). Ultimately the closers had the last word in this one; Coco Crisp roped a two-run homer off Bobby Jenks in the top of the ninth ("A cutter that didn't cut" according to Jenks), and the Sox could only manage one run against Joakim Soria in the bottom of the frame.
• A.J. Burnett was good-not-great in his pinstripes debut (5.1 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K) but he got plenty of help from his friends; the Yankees bullpen retired 11 straight batters after Burnett left the game, and the offense had its way (11 runs, 13 hits) against Alfredo Simon and the secondary Baltimore hurlers. It's encouraging to see Robinson Cano (4-4-3-2, homer) get off to a strong start after last year's early-season mess. Brett Gardner stole his first base of the year and Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher added homers.
• The Rays marked their territory nicely in the opening series in Boston, taking two of three against the Red Sox. Matt Garza was outstanding over seven innings Thursday (4 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K), and Troy Percival somehow escaped in the ninth and saved the victory. Sneaky-valuable Akinori Iwamura returned to the leadoff spot (where he'll be against righties at least) and went 1-for-4 with a run and his second stolen base.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is a hard watch even on his better days, but he didn't have much of anything working in this one (5.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 3 HR). Jason Varitek went 2-for-12 in the opening series but both of the hits were homers.
• Brandon Morrow got it right in his second outing, working a scoreless ninth to put away the Twins Thursday. He lost Michael Cuddyer to open the inning (here we go again), but quickly rallied with a pair of strikeouts and a fly out. Delmon Young returned to the Minnesota lineup but went 0-for-3 and was pinch-hit for in the ninth. Past history suggests we ignore the snappy line Jarrod Washburn posted (eight scoreless innings).
• It's easy to forget that Ricky Romero was the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft (after Bruan, before Tulowitzki) because he's had a checkered minor-league track record since then and expectations have been lowered significantly along the way. Nonetheless he looked pretty sharp in his big-league debut against the Tigers Thursday (6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K), outpitching Detroit's debuting phenom on the other side, Rick Porcello (5 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 K). Adam Lind (three hits, homer) and Aaron Hill (homer No. 2) both look like potential bargains for anyone sharp enough to land them.
• Given what Bronson Arroyo and Oliver Perez looked like this spring, it was hard to trust either hurler in their debuts Thursday afternoon. Arroyo somehow cobbled a win out of his mediocre outing (6 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 4 K), while Perez wasn't as successful during his sloppy stint (4.1 IP, 5 H, 8 R, 5 BB, 7 K). I need a show of good faith from both of these guys before I give them mixed-league attention.
Speed Round: B.J. Upton (shoulder) played nine innings in a minor-league game Thursday and should be with the Rays around the beginning of next week. … Geovany Soto doesn't have any structural damage to his shoulder, so it looks like he'll avoid a DL trip. … Kevin Kouzmanoff has a lingering hamstring injury and didn't play Thursday; just what this weak lineup doesn't need. Edgar Gonzalez replaced him in the lineup. … Josh Willingham isn't happy with his role with the Nationals and has talked to GM Mike Rizzo about it; Willingham is essentially the team's No. 5 outfielder. … DeWayne Wise hit the bench Thursday after going 0-for-8 (with four strikeouts) in his first two starts. … Who needs spring training? Francisco Cordero mowed down the Mets with three strikeouts on 13 pitches. … Heath Bell worked his way into a jam against the Dodgers, but a double-play ball from Martin bailed him out. … Khalil Greene has started all four St. Louis games, batting second, fourth, fifth and sixth. You know Genius La Russa, he's not happy unless he's filling out a different lineup card every day. … It wasn't a save situation with Toronto ahead four runs, but it's worth noting that Scott Downs struck out the side in the ninth inning against the Tigers. … Willy Taveras (flu) made his debut and went 1-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored. … Jed Lowrie hasn't done a thing in the opening week thus far (1-for-11, six strikeouts).
A final and sad word: It doesn't make sense that on Wednesday night Nick Adenhart was on a pitcher's mound doing what he loved to do, and then he was gone by the following morning, one of three killed at the hand of a drunken driver. My deepest condolences go out to everyone affected by this horrible tragedy.