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Cardinals ace Carpenter experiences what may be his final setback

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 9:57 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — ST. LOUIS — The bulletin Tuesday that longtime St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter was going to miss the season should not have been earth-shattering news. Carpenter had missed nearly four full seasons in St. Louis with an assortment of shoulder, elbow and nerve issues that all required surgery.

But the most recent dispatch that came down had a finality to it. General manager John Mozeliak, who had been called by Carpenter last Friday when the latter was experiencing considerable discomfort after throwing some bullpen sessions, said during a news conference that he didn’t expect Carpenter to be pitching for the Cardinals this season, or pitching any more at all, actually.

With a 95-44 regular-season record with the Cardinals and 10-4 in the postseason, Carpenter, in effect, is done.

The 37-year-old Carpenter, who is on the last year of a two-year, $21 million contract extension, had made what seemed a remarkable comeback from surgery to ease thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve ailment, last season. When Carpenter, who had tried and failed several times to pitch in 2012, had surgery in July, it was presumed that he was done for the season and would be ready for 2013.

Instead, Carpenter beat most odds by returning to make three regular-season starts (0-2) and then three more in the postseason, although it was clear he wasn’t at his best. Carpenter’s lone win was Game 3 of the National League division series at Washington, when he worked around seven hits and two walks to pitch 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

But in two losing starts at San Francisco in the league championship series, Carpenter gave up five runs in four innings on both occasions, although three of the runs were unearned in the second outing. Mozeliak allowed Tuesday that Carpenter had been having some discomfort at the end of that series.

For the most part, the Cardinals played last season without Carpenter. But they had Kyle Lohse (16-3) and, at the start of the season at least, a healthy Jaime Garcia. Now, they don’t have Lohse, a free agent with whom the Cardinals appear willing to part ways after tendering a $13.3 million qualifying offer that Lohse rejected. And the Cardinals still don’t know how Garcia’s left shoulder will hold up after surgery was eschewed.

But Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny both expressed confidence Tuesday that they have enough pitching, pointing to such young arms as Lance Lynn, who won 18 games last year, and Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller, all of whom were with the club last year and were impressive either in the regular season or postseason.

“We’re comfortable with what we have,” Mozeliak said.

“There’s no doubt when you lose a Chris Carpenter, you feel it. But ... he wasn’t pitching for us last year. It doesn’t change much as how you look at 2013. You just know that (Carpenter) no longer is an option.”

In theory, with Garcia and Carpenter available, the Cardinals had a pool of eight available starters, including returning veterans Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook. Now that number is roughly 61/2, depending on Garcia.

Two weeks ago, when he appeared at the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up, Carpenter had voiced optimism about the season but offered the disclaimer that he would not go through another lengthy rehab if something went wrong.

It did, after Carpenter began ramping up his workouts this offseason.

Mozeliak said that Carpenter had soreness, “zingers” and numbness in his shoulder and arm and discoloration of his shoulder and right hand after some recent throwing sessions. In other words, the same discomfort Carpenter had felt last spring and summer before surgery to alleviate the nerves that had compressed in his shoulder and neck.

“He just felt like, at this point, he no longer could continue to try to throw,” Mozeliak said. “(The throwing sessions) all kind of went downhill.

“The phone call went like, ‘I can’t throw. Every time I try, it just gets worse. The numbness and the ‘zingers’ are getting more frequent.’ “

“Then,” Mozeliak said, “the hand is discolored and he knows that’s not normal. Given what he’s been through from a medical standpoint, he just felt this injury is not going away.”

Carpenter is likely to seek medical evaluations in the coming days, including perhaps returning to Dallas, where last year’s surgery was performed by Dr. Gregory Pearl. But, Mozeliak said, “It’s very unlikely he’s going to pitch for us in the 2013 season.” Mozeliak suggested that further medical evaluations probably would be more concerned with what and how Carpenter might feel in his post-career life.

Carpenter was not at the news conference, opting instead to remain away from the maelstrom for a bit and attend a movie.

But Mozeliak said that when Carpenter phoned him that he didn’t think he could continue, “He was sad, actually. He was definitely teary-eyed and, to some degree, (felt) that he was letting us down. I assured him that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Mozeliak said that although there was no guarantee that Carpenter would be healthy this spring, he said he nonetheless was surprised to get the call. “To hear it the way we did was basically shocking,” Mozeliak said.

While comparisons of Carpenter to Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson might be exaggerated, Carpenter and Gibson were quite similar in their postseason exploits, both pitching the Cardinals to two World Series titles. “Unfortunately, (Carpenter) did have a lot of DL time over the years, but when he was healthy, he was one of the best,” Mozeliak said. “When I think back over the last 10, 15 years here in St. Louis, he was one those guys who helped create the model of success. He left nothing for chance.”

By not announcing his retirement, Carpenter still is in line to be paid his entire salary this year, although that position could be adjusted after Carpenter seeks medical opinions and weighs his options.

“He likely will just be put on our (disabled list),” Mozeliak said. “At some point he’ll start reflecting on the next chapter of his life.”

Asked if he would have taken a different offseason tack if he had known earlier that Carpenter wouldn’t be available, Mozeliak said, “I’d rather know today than six weeks from now. It does allow us a little more time to assess where we are.

“That was something Carp wanted this club to know. When he called me Friday, that was definitely something that he felt was important for us, so that at least we could react. In his mind, he probably wishes he could have told us sooner.

“It reminds you a little bit of ‘11 when you look at Adam Wainwright’s situation (Wainwright suffered a season-ending elbow injury in spring training) and after you get over the pity party of not having someone, you have to move on.”

There is no guarantee that Wainwright will be back after next season if he becomes a free agent, although both sides have expressed interest in preserving him through a multi-year deal. Mozeliak said Carpenter’s loss did not have any bearing on potential Wainwright negotiations.

“I think they’re very much independent,” Mozeliak said.

Carpenter’s best season was in 2005 when he won the Cy Young Award after going 21-5. He also was 17-4 in 2009 and three other times won at least 15 games for the Cardinals.

Carpenter missed the entire 2003 season with the Cardinals after recovering from shoulder surgery he had while with Toronto and then having arthroscopic surgery. In 2004, Carpenter missed the postseason because of a biceps strain. In 2006, he made just one start before going out for the year and much of the next season with an elbow injury that required surgery.

Matheny, who caught Carpenter here during the 2004 season and in Toronto in 1999, said when he heard he wouldn’t have Carpenter any more, “It was kind of a kick in the gut.”

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