Cards' Carpenter unlikely to pitch this season
Right-hander continues to experience weakness, numbness in pitching shoulder
ST. LOUIS -- General manager John Mozeliak took the phone call last Friday, shortly after Chris Carpenter finished throwing off a mound at Busch Stadium. It was Carpenter's third bullpen session of the week and each had been progressively more painful for the right-hander.
The message Carpenter was about to deliver would be just as piercing: The symptoms that caused him to miss most of the 2012 season were back, Carpenter told Mozeliak. He could no longer throw.
In the days since that conversation, the Cardinals have come to grips with the reality that they likely won't see Carpenter on the mound in 2013. Carpenter's career could well be over, too, though discussions of such finality haven't happened just yet.
Instead, the focus of a media conference at Busch Stadium on Tuesday was to discuss the immediate, which includes the organization now needing to make plans for a season sans Carpenter.
"Based on how he feels and the reaction that he's getting from when he throws, it's very unlikely that he's going to pitch for us in the 2013 season," said Mozeliak, who joined manager Mike Matheny in making the announcement.
Signs of a setback first surfaced last week when Carpenter began increasing his workload in preparation for the start of Spring Training. During a series of three bullpen sessions, Carpenter, who will turn 38 in April, felt numbness and discomfort in his right shoulder and neck area. He had some bruising, too, as well as discoloration in his right hand.
These were the same issues Carpenter experienced last year, when he was shut down just weeks into Spring Training. Doctors later diagnosed Carpenter with thoracic outlet syndrome, and the right-hander underwent surgery on July 19 to address the issue. The procedure, which involved removing one of Carpenter's ribs, was designed to remove pressure from the nerve.
The initial signs were that the problem had been successfully addressed. Carpenter blew away the recovery timetables and returned to pitch in September and October.
And as recently as last month, Carpenter spoke with excitement about the upcoming season, telling reporters that he began his offseason throwing program in December and had, to that point, incurred no problems.
"I haven't had any issues with my throwing or anything this year," Carpenter said on Jan. 19 while attending the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up. "I feel good. My shoulder feels good. I'm looking forward to getting down there and getting to camp early and get going."
Carpenter was not available for follow-up comment on Tuesday. According to Mozeliak, Carpenter wanted to first undergo a series of medical evaluations before publicly making a statement.
"He was sad," Mozeliak said. "I didn't see him live -- I was on the phone -- but he was definitely teary-eyed and I think he felt like, to some degree, he was letting us down. I assured him that that was far from the truth and that we were grateful for all that he's done for this organization. At that point, I was still wondering if there was some hope for resolution on this. But both Mike and I have talked to him numerous times since then, and I think, right now, what he wants to do is make sure that whatever is going on in his neck, shoulder and arm is not going to preclude him from having a normal after-career life."
Mozeliak projected that Carpenter will be evaluated by the team's medical staff later this week or next week. At this time, Carpenter does not have plans to return to Dallas to consult with Dr. Greg Pearl, who performed the neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome surgery on Carpenter last summer.
The Cardinals do not expect to see Carpenter at Spring Training. The club is also unsure whether he'll be around the clubhouse during the season, though Carpenter will most certainly be welcomed if he wants to stay involved.
"He's hurt," Matheny said. "There's no manuscript for how you handle the adversity that comes, especially late in your career. It doesn't make it easy, even if you are prepared. He was completely confident that 2013 was going to be a great season for him as a comeback player. And he anticipated being a huge part of what we're going to do. And to have things turn really quickly on him, it's hard for him.
"He has a passion for this game to compete. He has a passion for this team and the players, and his role as a mentor is something that he takes very seriously. It's a lot coming crashing down on him at one time."
With Carpenter out of the equation, the Cardinals will either have to lean on one of their young starting pitchers -- a group that includes Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal -- or look for help from outside. Free agent Kyle Lohse remains unsigned.
Mozeliak said that the topic of retirement had not come up in his recent conversations with Carpenter. If Carpenter were to retire now, he would forfeit the $12.5 million he's slated to earn in 2013. The more likely scenario is that Carpenter will hold off on that announcement until after the season, which would coincide with the end of his current contract.
While Mozeliak did not want to speculate about Carpenter's long-term future, he made it clear that the organization would welcome the right-hander back in some sort of role once his playing career is officially over.
"He's probably one of the most competitive players that I have ever been around," Mozeliak said. "He truly willed himself to want to win. And when you think about all the injuries he went through over his career, he always found a way to get back on the field and contribute in a positive way. I'll always admire that about him."
A first-round Draft pick by the Blue Jays in 1993, Carpenter has been slowed by injuries throughout his career. When the Cardinals place him on the disabled list to start this season, it will mark the 12th time Carpenter has landed on the DL. In addition to the surgery he had last year, Carpenter also previously had separate surgeries on his right shoulder and right elbow.
If Carpenter does step away from the game without another comeback, he'll end his career with 144 wins, a 3.76 ERA and a lasting legacy in St. Louis, where he pitched for the last nine seasons. As a Cardinal, Carpenter went 95-44, won the 2005 NL Cy Young Award and helped lead the Cardinals to two World Series championships.
Carpenter's final appearance in 2012 was on Oct. 21 at AT&T Park. In Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, he lasted four innings and allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits in four innings to the Giants, who went on to win that NLCS and the World Series.
The postseason was often when Carpenter was at his best. He went 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 playoff starts. During the Cardinals' championship run in 2011, Carpenter carried the club on his back. He outdueled Philadelphia's Roy Halladay in a decisive NL Division Series Game 5 to send the Cardinals to the NLCS, going 4-0 in six starts that October.
"What he stood for and how he went about his business, he's a real throwback in the game and somebody that just commanded respect by how he went about his business and how he treated people," Matheny said. "Those things are some things that will always be synonymous with Chris Carpenter."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.