St. Louis Cardinals: What Can Fans Expect from a Healthy Chris Carpenter?

Jeff SucherContributor IIIApril 25, 2012

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches in the first inning during Game Seven of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With a successful start to the 2012 season, the Cardinals haven't missed much of a beat without Chris Carpenter in the rotation. Youngster Lance Lynn has shown thus far he is more than capable of stepping into the rotation and having an impact. Thus far, Lynn has started out 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA and 19 innings pitched in his three starts.

A Carp-like start for Lynn, you bet. But the Cardinals will welcome back their gritty old ace when his health allows him back on the bump. 

Unfortunately, no one knows when that time will be. Carpenter has been reportedly doing strengthening exercises to get his shoulder back in shape, but hasn't been throwing as of yet.

Adding to that bad news, his profile quoted GM John Mozeliak as saying:

"I'm not going to guess because it's probably going to be wrong," he said. "We'll see how things go and keep people updated. Right now, we don't know anything."

Cardinals fans probably have hopes that Mozeliak is playing coy, but in reality he is most likely not and truly has no idea when Carp will take the mound for the Cardinals.

All that said, if and when he does come back, a healthy Carpenter can bolster an already strong rotation. If the starting pitching keeps performing as well as it has thus far, it may make sense for the Cardinals to explore the options of a six-man rotation. 

With a rested arm and a healthy neck, Carpenter would seem to be ready to help a team down the stretch push for another playoff run. 

Looking back over the Cardinals portion of his career, Carpenter has always returned strong from major injury. In 2004, Carpenter returned from missing the entire 2003 season due to a torn labrum and helped the Cardinals win the division before succumbing to a nerve injury in his shoulder late in the season. But Carp put together a nice 15-5 season in 2004 with a 3.46 ERA.

In 2005, after returning from his nerve injury in late 2004, Carpenter won the Cy Young with a 21-5 campaign and a 2.83 ERA.

In 2009, after two injury-plagued and shortened seasons, Carp came out and put together a 17-4 season with a 2.24 ERA and a top-three finish in the Cy Young voting. 

So if nothing else, history is on Carpenter's side for a strong return whenever that time comes. On the flip side, how many times can a guy return from injury before his body says enough? 

Only time will tell, but the Cardinals are hoping for a strong, healthy Carpenter to help them down the stretch pursuing another deep playoff run in October.