Chris Carpenter’s on the Comeback Trail

IMG_9660“Do I envision Carp returning? I would say it’s very unlikely, so, no.”

That was the question asked and answered by Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak after it was announced this past February that Chris Carpenter was being placed on the disabled list, theoretically ending his season before it even started. Carpenter was faced with numbness in his entire right arm thanks to multiple surgeries including an operation in 2012 that removed a rib from his chest. Yet here we are, just 5 months later, watching Carpenter baffle hitters with a blistering curveball.

Carpenter made his first start of the 2013 season on Monday night for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals and although there was some obvious rust, he looked solid against the Arkansas Travelers (Los Angeles Angels affiliate) lineup. Carpenter was able to complete 2.2 innings of work while allowing 3 runs on 6 hits (one homer) to go along with 5 strikeouts and 2 walks.

Carpenter was particularly sharp in the early going before tiring out once he topped the 30 or 40 pitch mark. In the first inning he was able to strikeout a pair of Travelers’ hitters on 3 straight pitches while pitching around a broken bat, bloop single by 2nd baseman Taylor Lindsey. He went mostly with his fastball and cutter before finally turning to his curveball on the final pitch of the 1st.

In the 2nd inning it was more of the same. His fastball was consistently touching 89-91 on the Hammons Field radar gun and it was topping out at 93 miles per hour, which is consistent with how Carpenter has thrown over the past couple of year. He was more curveball heavy in the 2nd inning, using the pitch to work out of a two on, one out jam. He was able to use the breaker to strikeout Carlos Ramirez before getting Rolando Gomez to ground out easily to 1st.

The 3rd inning wouldn’t go as smoothly. He started the inning by striking out Randal Grichuk for the 2nd time in the game but that’s when things went south. The next hitter, Taylor Lindsey, popped a sharp double into the gap and then he hung a cutter over the plate to Jimmy Smith, who deposited the pitch 350 feet away over the left field stands. Carpenter started to really lose steam from that point on. He was able to induce one more infield pop-up, but a pair of walks, a hit, and an error by Ruben Gotay would end his night. The standing room only crowd in Springfield gave Carpenter a rousing ovation as the pitcher exited after throwing 54 pitches.

For the most part this was an excellent start from the 38-year-old right-hander, who’s had so many surgeries on his arm that it’s a wonder it’s not being held together by duck tape and crazy glue alone.

“It starts with trying to command your fastball and command your secondary pitches, which I feel like I did,” Carpenter said. “My stuff felt better than I did the last time I threw last (week in a simulated game).””I haven’t competed in almost a year. Coming in to it, I didn’t know what it was like to face hitters. I was happy,” Carpenter said. “At some point I’m going to have to go through the lineup a few times, stay out and compete, or it’s not worth it.

Game notes, comments, musings

– Those secondary pitches were a bit of a mixed bag for Carpenter. His curveball generated a ton of poor swings and it was his go-to pitch whenever he needed a strikeout. Carp was able to finish off 4 of his 5 strikeouts with his curveball and the Travelers were hardly able to make contact with the pitch. The only real problem was that most of the rest of his secondary offerings were eminently hittable. His 2-seamer worked well early on, but as the lineup turned over the Travelers began sitting on the pitch and the results weren’t pretty. By the 3rd inning Travelers’ hitters were sitting on his cutter and they were hitting it hard damn near every time he threw it. This is all normal though. It generally takes a pitcher a couple of starts to knock the rust off of the breaking balls and Carpenter is no exception.

– Carpenter should have another rehab start or two on the docket before he makes his way back to the big leagues, but it’s worth wondering what his role in St. Louis will be. The Cardinals have the 2nd lowest starter ERA in all of baseball at 3.33 but the 5th spot has been a revolving door for most of the season. Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Tyler Lyons, and John Gast have all made 3 starts this season and I feel safe saying that Carpenter would be an upgrade over this conglomerate. But there’s also the question of durability. Can Carpenter build up enough arm strength and stamina to complete 5 or 6 innings? And is it best for his arm to be throwing that many innings, or would relief work keep him healthier for the rest of the season? I’d give Carpenter every possible chance to earn his way back into the rotation but at this point in his career, thanks to his extensive injury history, it would probably be best for him to come out of the bullpen.

– Taylor Lindsey, the #4 prospect in the Angels’ system, was an absolute monster at the plate. He went 2-2 against Carpenter and he was 4-5 on the game with a homer, 2 doubles, and an RBI. Lindsey also showed some solid range in the field and he looks to have the makings of a solid everyday ball player at the big league level. Kaleb Cowart, the Angels’ #1 prospect, also had a good game. He went 2-4 with a walk, a double, and one run batted in.

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