Carpenter has been sidelined for the entire season following complications with a nerve condition he received an operation on last year.
In February, it was largely believed by Carpenter and the Cardinals that his career was likely over. Recurring pain and numbness during long toss and other offseason baseball activities left him discouraged and defeated.
For the first time in his 15-year career, Carpenter did not even attend spring training. He just needed to step away.
After a couple of months, a game of catch with his son sparked yet another “against the odds” comeback for the 38-year-old right-hander.
While the comeback itself has been the victim of a couple minor setbacks, the chances of seeing Chris Carpenter on a major league mound improve every time he throws a baseball.
His Monday evening start with the Springfield Cardinals, while a bit shaky, showed the Cardinals several things they needed to see.
Carpenter’s fastball velocity was clocking in around 94 mph which is faster than he was getting in 2012 during his brief return. His sinker also had better movement on it than in the past.
Of course, the start didn’t turn out well. Carpenter surrendered two earned runs and a home run in 2.2 innings pitched.
However, five of his eight outs came via strikeout.
The most important take away from this has little to do with his baseball abilities—it’s the fact that he’s not hurting.
“He feels good,” Matheny said prior to Friday evening’s game against the San Diego Padres. “He felt good last time out, too.”
While he hasn’t necessarily progressed quickly, Carpenter has progressed steadily.
After 2012, Carpenter nor the Cardinals’ front office want to rush him along, and that’s the right call.
There is nothing for either to gain by rushing him into a situation he’s not yet prepared for.
“Overall, he’s doing exactly what we need him to do,” Matheny said. “He’s continuing to progress.”
Carpenter’s July 20 start will take place with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds—not in Springfield.
Does that mean they felt he pitched well enough to warrant a promotion?
“Don’t read too much into Triple-A over Double-A,” Matheny said, noting that Memphis' schedule was more on pace with the schedule the Cardinals want to see Carpenter move toward.
In short, the move had to do with pitching against the right competition.
“He’s a big league pitcher, and we want to get him the best competition so we can get him back here,” Matheny said.
Carpenter will presumably make three to four minor league starts. During that time, the Cardinals will be evaluating the best way to use him.
After his final bullpen session at Busch Stadium prior to the All-Star break, Carpenter made it clear that his goal is to get back to where he once was as a dominant starting pitcher.
He also knows that rushing things is not there.
When asked how he was going to get there, Carpenter’s answer was simple.
“One throw at a time, one step at a time.”
All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.