That would have been a shock in April, and in some ways, it would still be. But baseball fans live for that shock. We like to be surprised.
Carpenter has given out quite a few over the years, including last year. When Carpenter returned in 2012 with no prior rehab assignment, the odds were stacked against him, but he took the mound anyway.
While he was not the Chris Carpenter of old, but the fight he has always carried him through his comeback attempts was still with him.
Some of that same fight could be seen when he made his 2013 debut with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals on Monday night.
He was sharp early on and had good command of his off-speed pitches, but it waned in the third inning.
Again, he wasn’t vintage Carpenter, but in his first rehab start, it’s not fair to expect Carpenter to be the same pitcher he was once. That’s not how rehab works.
He will make two, possibly three, more additional starts before the July 31 trade deadline. That’s very fortunate for the Cardinals in some ways.
If Carpenter makes several more starts this month, it means the Cardinals’ front office will have time to gauge his performance in relation to where the big league club stands. They will be able to determine whether the team will be in play for a starting pitcher via a trade before the non-waiver deadline.
If Carpenter looks promising, he would be nearing a promotion by that time which would effectively be like a trade without the cost for the Cardinals.
That scenario only applies if Carpenter is pitching at least close to his ability and doing so without pain.
If not, the Cardinals will find themselves either in the market for another starting pitcher or looking to promote Carlos Martinez to a starting role.
Carpenter's potential return could also make things difficult for the Cardinals if they decide to look outside of the organization for help.
If he has additional pain or can’t seem to find his groove in the minors, the Cardinals will be left to make their decision with little time on the clock.
If that involves a trade, the St. Louis front office won’t have a lot of time to make it happen. Rush deals will always have a higher cost for the buyer than the seller.
There’s also the concern that many of the better arms up for grabs around the majors will be gone by that point.
That could, however, be a moot point for the Cardinals since several of those arms, including Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo, are already in the NL Central. Mozeliak has noted before a reluctance to deal top prospects within the Cardinals' own division.
At this point, the weight rests on Carpenter’s shoulders, but he’s used to that.
His 2013 debut left a lot to be desired, as he allowed two earned runs on six hits in 2.2 innings, but it’s doubtful anyone is more upset with the performance than Carpenter himself.
It’s only his first rehab start so it's too early to panic or start discussing how “he isn’t going to return.” There’s no way to make that judgment at this point and it’s not fair to either Carpenter or the organization.
He’s made it happen before and after all he’s done for the Cardinals, he has earned the right to prove himself again.
His less-than-stellar performance Monday night could be just the fuel Carpenter needs to amp his game back up to the next level and show the world that he still has some magic left in him.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Carpenter. The size of the jackpot is worth the risk.
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