Cardinals' Chris Carpenter's pitching future uncertain
Ex-Blue Jays hurler almost certainly won't pitch in 2013 due to nerve injury
Chris Carpenter, one of the best clutch pitchers in the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals, may have thrown his final pitch.
General manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny announced Tuesday that Carpenter almost certainly won't pitch in 2013 and that his star-crossed career is probably over after a recurrence of a nerve injury that cost him most of last season. Carpenter did not attend, and Mozeliak said the emotions for the 37-year-old still too raw.
Retirement isn't official yet. Carpenter plans to seek further medical evaluation. But Mozeliak seemed resigned to losing him.
"He's leaving the door slightly open, but it's unlikely," Mozeliak said of Carpenter's return.
Carpenter's career numbers don't reflect his value to the team. He is 144-94 with a 3.76 ERA in a career that began in Toronto in 1997. He spent six seasons with the Blue Jays and nine in St. Louis. He won the 2005 NL Cy Young Award, going 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA, and was second in 2009 after going 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA.
More telling are his post-season results, including a 10-4 record and 3.00 ERA in 18 starts. There were the eight innings of three-hit shutout baseball in a Game 3 World Series win over Detroit in 2006, a series the Cardinals won in five games; a 1-0 shutout to beat Roy Halladay in Philadelphia in the deciding game of the 2011 NL division series; and the gutty Game 7 World Series-clinching win over Texas on three days' rest in 2011.
His career is all the more remarkable considering the amount of time he spent on the disabled list due to various shoulder, elbow and nerve injuries. He missed most of 2002, all of 2003, most of 2007 and 2008, and then last year's season that was limited to three regular-season starts.
Carpenter phoned Mozeliak on Friday and told him that after trying to throw off a mound, the nerve injury was back, this time including numbness in his right arm, even bruising on his shoulder and hand.
"After speaking with him on the phone you certainly get a sense that he's more concerned about life after baseball," Mozeliak said.
The stunning news spread quickly. Third baseman David Freese tweeted: "Carp. 1 of the best teammates around. Heck of a competitor, impeccable leader. Passion for the game & to win, cant top. (hash)ace."
Carpenter was a clubhouse force, a no-nonsense presence who set an example of grit and toughness. Consider 2012: He was written off as lost for the season after the nerve injury first emerged during spring training.
But in July, Carpenter had radical surgery that included removal of a rib, and it worked — he pitched three games down the stretch to help St. Louis earn the final NL wild card spot. He beat Washington in the division series but was 0-2 in the NL championship series against eventual World Series winner San Francisco, the velocity and command not up to his normal standard.
"I don't know if I've ever witnessed a better competitor than Chris, and also leader," said Matheny, a former catcher and teammate of Carpenter's before his current role as manager.
'One of the best'
"When he was healthy he was one of the best," Mozeliak said. "He was blessed with talent but he also worked extremely hard. When I think back over the last 10 to 15 years here in St. Louis he was one of those guys who just helped create the model of success. He left nothing to chance."
Carpenter's contract calls for a $12.5 million US salary this year, of which $2 million is deferred without interest and is to be paid in $200,000 installments each July 1 from 2017-26.
As recently as the Cardinals' annual fan gathering in mid-January, Carpenter was saying he was healthy and eager to pitch in 2013. Mozeliak said Carpenter tried throwing from a mound perhaps three times before calling him, emotionally saying he didn't think he could pitch.
"He felt to some degree he was letting us down," Mozeliak said. "I assured him nothing was further from the truth."
Still, Matheny called the news "a kick in the gut" and the Cardinals have been through this before, too. Adam Wainwright had Tommy John surgery after hurting his elbow in 2011 and missed the entire season.
"There are a lot of young arms ready to contribute and now they're going to get that opportunity," Mozeliak said.
He declined to speculate on whether the team would consider re-signing Kyle Lohse, who was 16-3 with a 2.86 in 211 innings for St. Louis last season but remains unsigned as a free agent.
The Cardinals also have uncertainty about left-hander Jaime Garcia, who was 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA last season but was limited to just 20 starts due to shoulder fatigue. He was lost for the rest of the post-season after injuring his left shoulder in Game 2 against the Nationals.
Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn are expected to be in the rotation. Younger pitchers Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller will compete for a spot.
"As we head into spring now there's certainly a void there, but there's also an opportunity," Matheny said. "We have to have some other guys step up."