When St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter was shut down in July to have surgery to repair his thoracic outlet syndrome, there was little doubt that his 2012 season was done before it ever began.
Some even doubted whether this could mean the end of his career as a whole.
A story in the Wednesday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Hall of Fame baseball writer Rick Hummel details some amazing strides in his recovery.
Asked afterward if he would be able pitch before the season ended, Carpenter said, significantly, "I don't know. Let's see what happens."
As manager Mike Matheny told Hummel in the same interview, "That's a heckuva answer." It's difficult to explain it any better than that.
I still rank the chances of a Carpenter return in 2012 as slight at best, but it does pose several interesting questions.
There will be no rehab assignment
With the minor league season set to wrap-up in the coming days, a rehab assignment is out of the question.
That means the entire comeback process will be on full display for all to see—in Busch Stadium.
To expect him at 100 percent on day one would be unrealistic, but Carpenter even at 80 percent would be a big boost to this team.
In what capacity would he be used?
It's unlikely that Carpenter would immediately return to the pitching rotation on day one. It's possible he could reach that point, but any return would likely start with some time in the bullpen.
It's not to say that he won't start, but he'll have to work up to that level again.
With Lance Lynn losing his spot in the rotation to rookie Joe Kelly, the rotation is lacking stability on the back end as it begins to show the wear and tear of the 162-game season.
Carpenter could be a huge shot in the arm to the pitching staff if he's healthy enough to be competitive. With that being said, if he's not capable, he won't return until next year in the first place.
Is he physically up to the challenge?
While some might argue that his return would be too soon, at least one writer thinks he is up to the task.
Post-Dispatch writer Jeff Gordon wrote Wednesday that Carpenter was prepping for this moment long before the operation.
Carpenter muscled up before his operation so that he could recover ASAP. He worked to minimize the effect of post-surgical atrophy.
There is only one way to find out if he is up to the task—give him a shot. Assuming he rebounds well and throws another good session later in the week, I wouldn't rule anything out.
Is the potential gain worth the risk?
Most likely it is.
His operation isn't like Tommy John surgery where the timetable is rigid. At this point, Carpenter is limited only by how he feels.
Prior to surgery he was feeling the lingering effects of every side session for several days. At this point in his recovery, he claims to be feeling well.
If there is little risk of causing further damage, then what's the harm in giving him a shot.
The question isn't should they bring him back, the proper question is why not?
In the heat of a September playoff race, who would be better for a September call-up than the bulldog himself?
I'm still not ready to say that Carpenter's return is likely, but it is definitely back within the realm of possibility. Two weeks ago it wasn't even a consideration.
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