Chris Carpenter made sure he was ready for this. Arriving seven hours before the first pitch, you could see the competitiveness oozing from him. In his first start since Opening Day last season because of Tommy John surgery, Carpenter took the mound and came away relatively unscathed and surely more confident.
Having Carpenter face the Braves Wednesday, who look more like an Triple-A team right now, for his first start was a good decision. Chipper Jones and Brian McCann are both out injured and Mark Teixeira was traded on Tuesday, leaving Atlanta’s lineup depleted.
His pitching began slightly erratic, but by the fourth inning Carpenter showed flashes of his former self. With only two rehab starts under his belt, it was unknown how Carpenter would throw.
As Carpenter handed a walk to Atlanta's lead-off batter, visions of Mark Mulder’s start weeks before swam in my head. But Carpenter proved to be much more resilient than Mulder, retiring the next three batters.
His location became more and more precise as the game wore on, and his pitches were sharper. Carpenter's breaking ball in particular looked significantly better the more he threw.
In the second inning, Carpenter ran into a bit of trouble. After a single landed in front of a deep playing Mather, and a bunt tricked Glaus into staying fair, Carpenter came away fairly clean after giving up just one run.
He issued two walks, which in my opinion was tremendous. The Braves waited on more balls and made Carpenter hit the strike zone. The other thing that impressed me was that Carpenter kept the ball down. He didn’t let the ball sail up in the strike zone, resulting in seven ground outs.
Pitching Coach Dave Duncan said before the game he wanted to keep Carpenter around 75 pitches for the night. He finished at 67, but still looked strong enough to go an extra inning if need be. La Russa and Duncan presumably wanted to keep the start positive, and to not overexert Carpenter.
However, if the Cardinals are to remain in the hunt for the playoffs, Carpenter is going to hurt them in the short run. Brad Thompson is going to have to work behind Carpenter again for probably the next two outings. The relief for the bullpen that Redbird fans are so desperately awaiting won’t be until mid-August, if not later.
Perhaps the most significant boost Carpenter provided and will provide will be to mentality of the team. Carpenter provides not just an ace, a Cy Young winner that has persevered, he is an answer to the Sabathia and Harden deals. Carpenter makes the Cardinal rotation look legitimate.
The timing couldn’t have been better. As the Cardinals won Wednesday, they tied the Brewers for the wild card lead, giving them a feeling that the playoffs are a real possibility.
Carpenter can help this team significantly, but it will take some time. All Redbird fans can agree it’s good to see the Cardinals finally getting healthier.